Colorado’s 2020-21 avalanche season was tied for the deadliest. It’s helping forecasters hone warnings and outreach. |

Colorado’s 2020-21 avalanche season was tied for the deadliest. It’s helping forecasters hone warnings and outreach.

Avalanches killed 37 backcountry travelers in the U.S. last winter, including 12 in Colorado. Analysis of each tragedy helps avalanche scientists craft warnings to reach more skiers and snowmobilers.

Jason Blevins
The Colorado Sun
A photo of a deadly avalanche near Loveland Ski Area that happened Feb. 14, 2021.
Colorado Avalanche Information Center/Courtesy photo

DENVER — A once-in-a-decade layer of rotten snow in the mountains combined with unprecedented traffic in the backcountry made the 2020-21 avalanche season the deadliest in many years.

The 37 deaths across the country — each a tragedy that will resonate for lifetimes — delivered lessons to avalanche forecasters and researchers, especially in Colorado, where 12 men were killed, matching a painful high mark set in the winter of 1992-93.

“A lot of the accidents we saw last year were people going to the places where they felt like an avalanche would not happen, but if you looked at the terrain from an Avalanche 101 perspective, these were slopes that were steep enough to slide and with the snow pack we had last year they were much more dangerous than they were in previous years,” said Ethan Greene, the executive director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

As those avalanche educators and forecasters distill a season many would prefer to forget, they’re learning lessons that can help them in their overarching mission to raise awareness of avalanche risks in the snowy backcountry.

More than 900 online attendees of the 20th annual Colorado Avalanche Information Center’s annual Snow and Avalanche Workshop gathered earlier this month to hear from researchers who analyzed last season’s accidents for signs or lessons that could help backcountry travelers avoid avalanches.

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