The North Fork Snowmobile Club sponsored an avalanche awareness program at Hotchkiss High School last Wednesday.
Ruth Spradling of the U.S. Forest Service Uncompahgre Field Office in Delta told the students that Colorado leads the nation in avalanche fatalities.
Snowmobilers, skiers and climbers headed the list. Among the dead are expert skiers and climbers, those 18 to 35 years and in great physical shape. "There are hazards that really do impact people's lives," Spradling said.
Brian McCall is a Colorado Avalanche Information Center forecaster for Grand Mesa and Aspen. The center is part of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.
People love to go into the back country because of the powder and untouched snow, exercise, and peace and quiet. But when anyone goes onto public lands they need to be thinking about the possibility of avalanches.
On average 36 people die in North America in avalanches each year.
Asphyxiation kills two-thirds of avalanche victims. The other third die from injuries. Most who die have triggered the avalanche themselves or those they are with have. Rescuers only have 20 minutes to save someone buried by an avalanche.
Those who go into avalanche terrain need to know how to recognize avalanche hazards such as unstable snow.
Ski resorts border BLM and Forest Service land. It's an attraction to go beyond the ski resort, but the resort's ski patrol does not go on the public land. Skiers are on their own when they go outside the resort boundary.
Proper safety equipment that everyone should have includes an avalanche beacon which transmits and receives radio signals. It should be left on all day. If trapped in an avalanche, others in the group can switch their beacons to the search mode and can locate the party who has been buried.
Because the snow sets up and becomes hard quickly, everyone in the group should have a shovel which breaks down and can be carried in their back pack.
The third piece of basic safety equipment is an avalanche probe which is used to find the exact location of the buried victim.
Never travel alone in avalanche terrain. All members of the group should not ski or snowmobile at the same time down a slope. That way if an avalanche is triggered, there will be no people who can be involved in the rescue.
The brain is a valuable piece of safety equipment. "You need to know how to recognize and avoid avalanche hazards," McCall said. Don't think you can out run an avalanche. Avalanches travel between 20 and 100 miles per hour.
He recommends everyone ask themselves a series of questions to determine the hazard level of an area. Is the snow unstable? Could we trigger an avalanche by being on this steep slope? Are we in avalanche terrain?
"When you are in the back country you have to make your own decisions," McCall said. "Avalanche terrain is pretty easy to recognize."
Avalanche terrain is steep. The slope angle for avalanche terrain is 30 to 45 degrees. The most common avalanche terrain is at 37 to 38 degrees. Thirty degrees is equivalent to intermediate ski slopes. Double black diamond ski runs are at 45 degrees. Everyone should have a slope meter.
Look for signs of recent avalanche activity and blowing snow which creates a ridge. The snow will be unstable and potentially dangerous. Each weather event creates layers in the snow pack. The bonding between the layers becomes unstable, for example, when temperatures warm up during the day and become cold later. If the temperature will be 40 to 45 degrees in the afternoon, ski in the morning. If more than eight to 10 inches of snow fall in 24 hours, avalanche danger increases. Rain causes avalanche danger to increase rapidly. When stress on the snow exceeds the strength of the snow layer an avalanche occurs.
Avalanche forecasts are available seven days a week during the winter. Before going into the back country check the avalanche forecast atcolorado.gov/avalanche. Colorado Avalanche Information Center gives weather forecasts for elevations at 11,000 feet.
"If conditions look unsafe, come back another day," McCall said.blog comments powered by Disqus