Winter snowmobiling can provide serious recreational fun. It also takes serious knowledge and preparation if riders plan to venture into backcountry areas where avalanche risk can be present.
Twenty-two members of two area snowmobile clubs met in Cedaredge last Friday for a presentation on avalanche awareness and safety. They also talked about dealing with the sometimes tragic aftermath of avalanches.
The North Fork Snowmobile Club and the SnoKrusers of Grand Mesa heard Randy Engle of Colorado Parks and Wildlife share his firsthand knowledge and a two-hour-long video presentation on the backcountry joys and dangers of snowmobiling.
Anyone who participates in backcountry activities or who may be considering taking up a backcountry sport, whether it be snowmobiling, cross country skiing, snowshoeing or some other activity, needs to be aware of the avalanche dangers that are present. Avalanche conditions can change from day to day, and even from hour to hour.
Colorado is the top state in the nation for deaths from avalanches, and Colorado has accounted for almost 250 avalanche deaths between 1950 and 2012. Of those deaths, snowmobiling accounts for the most deaths of backcountry activities nationwide.
Between 1950 and 2012, Pitkin County leads Colorado with 42 avalanche deaths. It is followed by Summit County with 37 deaths, Clear Creek County with 25 deaths, and Gunnison County with 19 deaths including one avalanche death near marble last weekend.. Ouray County has accounted for 16 deaths from avalanche over the same period. there have been no recorded deaths from avalanche in Delta County.
Its not just snowmobilers or cross country skiers who can be at risk. Fatalities have been suffered by rescue workers, highway workers, rural residents, and hunters.
Engle's presentation outlined specific techniques and clues that backcountry users can use assess avalanche risk and take appropriate precautionary measures. Those measures can include, and sometimes should include, avoiding certain high risk areas, and even deciding to just depart the backcountry on any particular day.
Most avalanches occur during a storm or within 24 to 48 hours after a storm, engle explained. But a danger-creating storm can take place even under clear, blue sky conditions. Even on a clear day, wind-blow snow under endless blue skies can quickly create avalanche conditions, and it is a condition that backcountry visitors need to be aware of to keep their backcountry adventure form becoming a game of avalanche roulette.
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center is available on line with regular updates on conditions. It can be found using any search engine.
Localized reports and updates are available at the Aspen center, 270-920-1664; the Crested Butte center, 970-349-4022; or, the Telluride center, 970-247-8187.
Following Engle's video presentation on Friday evening at the community center, there was an exercise at the Mesa Top parking on Grand Mesa where everyone specific search and rescue techniques were rehearsed in hands-on exercises. The Mesa Top event concluded with a group ride.
Anyone interested in snowmobiling can contact the clubs for information and fun companionship in a great winter sport that is perfectly suited to our local area.
A good contact person for either group is Joe Oglesby, 921-3002. The North Fork club number is 872-2167. The SnoKrusers of Grand Mesa number is 270-4474.