Every year, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) receives reports of around 2,300 avalanches, and experts believe this is a mere fraction of the total. As many as ten times that amount occur but go unreported. They’re most common from December to April, when massive amounts of snow accumulate on steep slopes.
Broken down, that amounts to around 100 avalanches in Colorado per week every winter season. Last week, however, that number quadrupled as more than 400 avalanches spilled down mountainsides across the state thanks to the snowpack passing a tipping point.
“One hundred thirty-seven of these were large enough to bury someone, and 294 were natural,” the CAIC said in a Facebook post. “This should be warning enough that the snowpack is dangerous. This weekend signs of instability, like natural avalanches, will diminish, but human triggering remains likely.”
“As the slab gains strength, you may get less warning, no cracking or collapsing, before the slab breaks,” the continued. “Don’t be tempted out on steep slopes if you haven’t seen a warning. The first sign you may notice is the shatter of the slab beneath you.”
Experts Warn Against Travel on Steep Terrain Amid Colorado Avalanches
Though the chances of an avalanche have decreased in the wake of the slew of powerful snow slides in the last week, experts still advise caution for adventurous outdoorsmen. The storm blowing through Colorado early next week will only increase dangerous avalanche conditions.
“Dangerous avalanche conditions last through the weekend,” the CAIC warned. “Chances are, you will feel collapsing and see cracking to remind you. You can easily trigger a large avalanche that breaks near the ground, especially on steep slopes that hold more than about three feet of snow.”
To stay safe on mountainous terrain, avalanches experts advise staying on terrain sloping less than 30 degrees. “During times like this, very conservative terrain choices are a must because the uncertainty of where we can trigger a slide is high,” they explained.
“You can find safer travel by sticking to terrain less than about 30 degrees that is not connected to large steep slopes above. South-facing slopes that do not harbor a weak layer are also a good option as long as you are not hitting rocks beneath.”
Though snow seems harmless as it gently floats to the ground, an avalanche can be deadly. In fact, Colorado averages around six deaths from avalanches every winter, the most of any state in the country.
As the snow cascades from the mountainside, it reaches speeds of up to 200 mph, making it impossible to outrun. A large avalanche can weigh as much as a million tons, crushing everything in its path. And unfortunately, the majority of avalanches are triggered by their own victims. With that in mind, the importance of snow safety can’t be stressed enough.