For a variety of reasons — high lift-ticket prices, a sense of adventure, pushing your limits, dependable and lightweight gear, etc. — more people each winter are venturing into the snowy preserves of our mountains’ back-country.
But the pure exhilaration of tasting all that untracked powder has a nasty side-effect: avalanches.
A clear and present wilderness danger, avalanches were responsible for 13 deaths of skiers and snowboarders who ventured outside ski resort boundaries in the United States last winter, an increase of four over the previous winter and 10 more than the winter of 2016-17.
In Colorado alone, eight people — out of 46 people caught and 16 buried by avalanches — perished in back-country snow slides in the 2018-19 winter.
So, it behooves any back-country skier or snowboarder (or snowshoer or snowmobiler, for that matter) to be constantly on the alert and properly prepared and equipped to keep from being another grim statistic.
Workshops and seminars
And the best way to do that is to learn from the pros.
There are a plethora of avalanche safety seminars and workshops conducted throughout the fall and early winter, mostly done under the auspices of the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE), where back-country novices and veterans alike can pick up tips how to tread safely on snow-loaded ridges, faces and the like.
Perhaps the best resource is AIARE itself, whose Website (avtraining.org) has a wealth of avalanche-related topics and can direct you to a variety of training and safety seminars and workshops (aiare.info/course_list.php).
And once you’ve learned how to recognize and survive potential avalanche danger, it’s best to get first-hand knowledge of what the potential danger is.
Know before you go
To that end, there are many regional organizations that provide weather and avalanche-danger forecasts for those venturing into the back-country:
- The Sierra Avalanche Center (sierraavalanchecenter.org) provides data for the Sierra from just north of Truckee to south of Mammoth
- The Colorado Avalanche Information Center (avalanche.state.co.us) has updates for all ranges in the Centennial State
- The mountains of western Wyoming are under the watch of jholeavalanche.org and the Wasatch and Uintas of Utah are the responsibility of Utah Avalanche Center (utahavalanchecenter.org).
- Montana has three different agencies conducting potential avalanche hazards: mtavalanche.com for the south central part of the state, missoulaavalanche.org for the southwest portion and flatheadavalanche.org for the north.
- The mountains of Idaho are watched over by idahopanhandleavalanche.org in the north, payetteavalanche.org in the west-central and sawtoothavalanche.com in the east-central.
- The Olympic range, the Washington Cascades and the Mt. Hood area are monitored by the Northwest Avalanche Center (nwac.us).