Gary Lindstrom: It looks beautiful, but all this snow will slide
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center staff probably saves hundreds of lives each year. They do not get the credit they deserve. They are like invisible ninjas out there doing a good job and saving lives.
I remember in years past how they had to scramble for funding from local counties because the State of Colorado did not support them very well. I think that the worst thing they have to deal with is the fact that many people do not check with their website or call their number before heading into the backcountry in winter. They probably spend some time saying, “What if they had only called?” each winter. Check them out at http://avalanche.state.co.us/ or give them a call at (970) 668-0600.
When I checked their site last Wednesday, the avalanche danger for Summit County was considerable. A lot of new snow combined with sustained high winds is a deadly combination. I think many people believe all you need in the backcountry is a good pair of cross country skis or snowshoes and a bright sunny day.
In my opinion, the staff members from the center are scientists who use all of the data available to put together daily reports of avalanche conditions throughout the state. Factors such as snow accumulation and wind will increase the possibility of an avalanche.
The heavier the snow load causes layers of snow and ice to build until the weight combined with the freeze thaw cycle and wind causes the layers to slide. All of this process is hidden under white fluffy snow.
As the winter progresses, take a look on either side of Interestate 70 and you will see slides on a daily basis. Colorado Department of Transportation will use its military cannon to shoot the overhangs to cause a controlled slide.
Above Loveland Basin Ski Area, there are several slide chutes referred to as the Seven Sisters. They would slide and close Loveland Pass a lot when I moved to Colorado in 1970 and they continue to slide.
All of the ski areas do a great job with avalanche control. I can sit in my living room in Lakeview Meadows and hear the explosions from the slide control charges set off by the Breckenridge Ski Patrol. You virtually never hear of an avalanche at a ski area due to the good work of the Ski Patrol.
A week ago, a skier was caught in an avalanche east of Cameron Pass in Larimer County. Fortunately, in that case, the victim’s friends were able to rescue him. That is a very good thing because there are only minutes available before the victim will die under the snow. There is not enough time for local search and rescue to respond.
There was an earlier slide incident on Jones Pass in November also with a good outcome. I was with the Summit County Sheriff’s Office off and on from 1976 to 1995 before I became a County Commissioner.
As undersheriff, I spent many days and nights working with Summit County Search and Rescue looking for victims of avalanches. Unfortunately, most of the time, the search resulted in finding the victim’s body.
I was also the County Coroner from 1987 to 1995. Besides working with Search and Rescue and law enforcement, I also had the task of notifying the next of kin. One of the most common responses was always, “At least they died doing what they enjoyed.”
I always felt that was ironic. Why not do what you can to not die and continue to enjoy doing what you were doing? Death is so very final. After you die there is no more skiing.
An interesting thing I learned from my experience is that the victim was nearly always an expert backcountry skier. Most were highly thought of in the community as someone who knew what they were doing when it came to skiing in the backcountry.
The are no ski patrol personnel doing avalanche control in the backcountry. There is no CDOT cannon shooting potential avalanches in the backcountry.
All you have protecting yourself is your good common sense and information you can get for free from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. I do not want to read about you later this year.
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