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Breckenridge Ski Resort hosting avalanche safety speaker series

Sebastian Foltz
sfoltz@summitdaily.com
Backcountry skiers prepare to drop in on Mayflower Gulch near Copper Mountain.
Sebastian Foltz / sfoltz@summitdaily.com |

Breck Ski Patrol Public Avalanche Series

When: Thursday, Feb. 19, 6 p.m.

Where: Ten Mile Room in the Village at Breckenridge

What: Backcounty safety speaker series

Free to the public, free Pizza, cash bar

Every year, between six and eight backcountry recreationists die in avalanches in Colorado. It’s the highest average of fatal incidents in the country, and could be on the rise with increased backcountry usage.

The state’s 10-year average falls closer to six, while over the past five years that average has risen to around eight. Avalanches account for about 30 fatalities nationwide annually.

For members of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center — the nonprofit responsible for avalanche forecasting — it’s a cause for concern and a motivator for promoting backcountry safety.

“There’s a lot of common mistakes out there,” CAIC director Ethan Greene said, describing the similarities among backcountry incidents.

“I’m always surprised at the size of avalanches that people can survive, and the small avalanches that can kill people.”Ethan GreeneColorado Avalanche Information Center

“Some very basic snow-safety approaches will get you where you want to go.”

So far this winter Colorado has seen two fatalities related to slides, both in avoidable circumstances.

For the CAIC it’s about proper education and good decision making. Most fatal incidents can often be avoided, but properly reading the snowpack and taking the right precautions can be challenging.

“I’m always surprised at the size of avalanches that people can survive, and the small avalanches that can kill people,” Greene said.

As part of a collaborative effort with the CAIC, the Breckenridge Ski Resort patrollers will host the third installment of their Breckenridge Ski Patrol Public Avalanche Series, from 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 19, in the Ten Mile Room at the Village in Breckenridge. The free event includes speakers from the CAIC and the Breckenridge ski patrol discussing backcountry travel and up-to-date backcountry conditions.

“It’s something that our patrollers are really passionate about and it’s something they enjoy doing,” resort spokeswoman Kristen Petitt Stewart said.

This week’s topic is “The Human Side of the Slide” and will be hosted by Breckenridge’s head of snow safety Will Barret with Ian Hoyer from CAIC.

The focus of the presentation will be how to correctly use snowpack tests for backcountry decision making.

Current forecast information and concerns will also be discussed. The speaker series is free to the public and includes free pizza and a cash bar.

Avalanche conditions

While a lack of new snow has lowered avalanche concerns in the Summit County area from level 3 to level 2 on the CAIC’s five-level scale, persistent-slab avalanches remain a concern with weak layers deeper in the snowpack. Northwest and north- through east-facing slopes remain susceptible to large, but less likely, slides. Weak layers 1 to 2 feet deep under recent snow on those particular slopes have been an issue. Early-season snow that failed to bond with new layers deeper in the snowpack are also a concern.

On Wednesday, Feb. 11, observers reported that a skier triggered a slide on a north-facing slope near tree line on Jacque Peak, near Copper Mountain. One skier in the group of four was caught in the slide but uninjured.

The CAIC is continuing to urge caution, reminding skiers and snowboarders to be alert for signs of instability in the snowpack. Most fatal accidents occur when the avalanche danger level is between levels 2 and 3.

“There’s rarely a green light for us in Colorado,” Greene reminded backcountry travelers. “It doesn’t mean that you can’t go out and have a good time, but it does mean you have to know about avalanches and be careful.”


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