Meet Your Forest column: U.S. Forest Service reminds visitors that avalanche season is underway |

Meet Your Forest column: U.S. Forest Service reminds visitors that avalanche season is underway

The slide was one of three slab avalanches reported in November.
Courtesy of Summit County Rescue Group |

With 2016 finally here, Friends of the Dillon Ranger District wishes you and yours the best New Year to come. Now that there is a lush blanket of snow over our land, take time to brush up on your winter safety plan. FDRD wants to share this update from White River National Forest about winter conditions. Thanks to Kate for providing this information as well as some great links to keep you safe this winter.

The avalanche season is underway across much of the U.S. with a series of sizable storms bringing heavy snowfall and strong winds to the western mountains, U.S. Forest Service officials said. The snow is falling on a weak, existing snowpack, creating dangerous conditions. High avalanche danger and avalanche warnings exist for the western slope of Colorado as well as parts of Washington, Idaho and Montana.

“Last week, we saw a lot of snowfall accumulate in a short amount of time and many visitors are looking to enjoy this fresh snow in the backcountry areas. However, human-triggered avalanches are still a risk. We recommend avoiding avalanche terrain in the backcountry and staying current on avalanche conditions provided by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, ” cautions Kate Jerman, public affairs for the White River National Forest.

Avalanches cause more fatalities than any other natural hazard on Forest Service lands. Each winter, about 30 people die in an avalanche while skiing, snowboarding or snowmobiling in the backcountry. To help mitigate this danger, the Forest Service operates a network of local avalanche centers across the country. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center provides current conditions in Colorado’s High Country from November through May.

“We just came out of a large storm event with a big cycle of avalanche activity,” states Brian Lazar, deputy director of Colorado Avalanche Information Center. “Human triggered avalanches remain likely in the White River National Forest area. We recommend people stay off of, or out from underneath, steep wind-loaded slopes. Before you go out, take the basic precautions by getting the forecast from . Make sure you carry the appropriate equipment, travel with a partner and get avalanche training.”

Current Conditions

• Aspen: Avalanche conditions remain considerable near and above tree line. Considerable avalanche ratings mean that dangerous avalanche conditions exists. Cautious route-finding and conservative decision making is essential.

• Vail and Summit County: Avalanche conditions remain considerable above tree line and moderate everywhere else. Heightened avalanche conditions on specific terrain features exist. Evaluate snow and terrain carefully.

The agency encourages visitors to educate themselves before going into areas where an avalanche is possible. To stay safe:

• Get the forecast:

– Take an avalanche course, read an avalanche book and take advantage of online training opportunities on websites like the National Avalanche Center and Avalanche Canada.

– Watch the updated Know Before You Go avalanche safety video.

• Get the advisory:

– Check the Colorado Avalanche Information Center for current conditions in Colorado’s High Country during periods of elevated avalanche danger.

• Get the gear:

– When travelling in avalanche terrain, all members of your party need avalanche rescue gear, such as a transceiver, probes shovel and backpack.

– One important tool you cannot buy is a partner. Never go alone.

• Get the picture:

– The three conditions of unstable snow that can cause an avalanche are slopes steeper than 35 degrees; snowpack weakness, including recent avalanches, collapsing snow that makes a “whumpf” sound, and cracks shooting out in front of your skis or over a snow vehicle when you are travelling through the snow.

Safety is of great importance to the Forest Service, whether it is to help ensure the safety of our employees or our visitors. There are inherent dangers in the outdoors. It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure the safety of themselves and others around them.

For more information about being safe on national forests and grasslands, visit the agency’s Know Before You Go page.

The mission of the U.S. Forest Service, an agency of the Department of Agriculture, is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.

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