Snows prompt early avy center opening
SUMMIT COUNTY – Four human-triggered avalanches in Colorado’s backcountry during the past two weeks prompted the Colorado Avalanche Information Center to start operations early this season.The forecast center will begin sending weather and snowpack information to its members via email today. The free telephone hotline is expected to be up and running by mid November. The local number is (970) 668-0600.”Accidents are already starting to happen,” said forecaster Scott Toepfer. “If you’re a backcountry user it’s time to start paying attention.”One skier received minor injuries when he triggered a slide on Storm Peak, also known as Velocity Basin, near Silverton on Oct. 23. He was swept over a cliff and buried up to his neck, according to reports. A group of skiers across the valley saw the accident, dug him out and helped transport him off the mountain. He was taken to a Durango-area hospital and released.No one was hurt, but skiers were “within feet” of getting caught the same day when another hard-slab avalanche occurred on “The Battleship” near Ophir Pass. The slide was 500 feet wide, one foot deep and ran 1,000 vertical feet. Details are sketchy of a third hard-slab slide on Independence Pass that occurred on the same weekend, Toepfer said, when a skier-triggered avalanche was reported but no one was caught.The first slide of the season happened on Oct. 18 on Mt. Sheridan in the Mosquito Range. No one was hurt in the avalanche that was 10 feet wide, almost two feet deep and ran 800 vertical feet to the ground.The forecast center delivered its first morning report today. Because the center’s observers are not yet in the field and scant information is available until more ski areas open across the state, the reports will be limited to one per day and will not include the avalanche danger level (HIGH, MODERATE, etc.).Full reports will begin in a few weeks. Members of Friends of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center receive either one or two email reports per day, depending on the annual membership level. One-per-day costs $30 and the additional afternoon update is $45. The reports include a weather synopsis, detailed weather forecast, snowpack discussion and avalanche danger rating. While the service is invaluable for backcountry users, many others use it for weather forecasts, Toepfer said.”There are fruit growers, construction crews, hut users, ski area skiers (who use the service),” Toepfer said. “If you want to know where to ski on your days off – will the storm system be a southern mountain cycle or a Steamboat cycle – it’s the best place to get your mountain weather forecast.”On Sunday, forecaster Dave Atkins said the snowpack this year is setting up typically for the early season. “We’ve had snow lingering on the high peaks since September that has turned weak and sugar-like,” he said. “Small storms have added a thin slab layer on top – so the ingredients to an avalanche are in place.”
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