Officials warn avalanche danger will continue through Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend

Meg Soyars
Sky-Hi News

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center has warned that dangerous avalanche conditions will last through the busy Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, when many may be heading into the backcountry.

Since Dec. 26, the center has recorded 870 avalanches. Four people have died in avalanches in Colorado this winter, and there has been a fatal avalanche accident each of the last three weekends. One of the deaths occurred in Summit County, and three of the deaths occurred from slides in Grand County. The most recent accident occurred near Pumphouse Lake east of Winter Park on Jan. 7, resulting in the deaths of two men who were snowmobiling.  

According to the release, avalanches this season are getting larger. People may not see the usual danger signs but still be in a dangerous area. These include areas that may be perceived as safe, such as easy-to-access backcountry spots right off the highway, or backcountry access points accessed by leaving a ski resort area.

On Dec. 31, a father lost his son after both were involved in an avalanche near Breckenridge when the pair left the boundaries of a ski area on Peak 10 of the Tenmile Range. The son was waiting for his father to ski down a slope commonly called Number 5, which is one of five avalanche paths that make up the area called the Numbers in a backcountry area accessed via a gate near the top of the Falcon SuperChair.

The father triggered a slide as he cut to the left across the slope. The avalanche buried the son, which ultimately led to his death. The father was also caught in the debris but was able to wiggle his hands above his head enough to see light before freeing himself.

The father made his way back toward the resort to get help, but it took him about 20 minutes to free himself from the snow piled on top of him.

“We have seen more avalanches this year than we do on a typical year, and recently they’ve gotten much bigger,” said Ethan Greene, director of the center, in a news release on Jan. 10.

According to the center, early season snowfall, followed by heavy snow in early December and early January created dangerous avalanche conditions.

“We want everyone to enjoy the wonderful public lands in Colorado, and go home alive and well to their family and friends on Monday,” Greene stated in the news release. “We need everyone headed into the backcountry to plan their trip carefully and make sure they avoid avalanche hazards. We need to stop this deadly trend.”

The center recommends that checking the avalanche forecast on their website at before heading into the backcountry. People can also check conditions on the Friends of CAIC’s mobile app and learn more about avalanche safety on the center’s education and resources webpage.

The center advises that every member of a backcountry group carry an avalanche-rescue transceiver, a probe pole and a shovel, and know how to use this equipment. 

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