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Avalanche season is underway

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The avalanche season is underway across much of the U.S. with a series of sizable storms bringing heavy snowfall and strong winds to the western mountains, U.S. Forest Service officials said. The snow is falling on a weak, existing snowpack, creating dangerous conditions. High avalanche danger and avalanche warnings exist for the Western Slope of Colorado as well as parts of Washington, Idaho and Montana.

"Winter, especially during the holiday season, is a time when many visitors are enjoying the fresh snow in the backcountry areas. With the current unstable snow conditions, we recommend avoiding avalanche terrain and not skiing, boarding or snowmobiling in the backcountry," cautions Anne Janik, Public Affairs Specialist for the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests.

Avalanches cause more fatalities than any other natural hazard on Forest Service lands. Each winter, about 30 people die in an avalanche while skiing, snowboarding, or snowmobiling in backcountry. To help mitigate this danger, the Forest Service operates a network of local avalanche centers across the country. The Colorado Avalanche Center provides current conditions in Colorado's high country during periods of elevated avalanche danger.

Avalanche warnings were in effect in the San Juan Mountains and the high country around Gunnison and Crested Butte through Dec. 24. Winter recreationalists planning to go into the backcountry should check the Colorado Avalanche Center website daily.

On Monday, Dec. 28, the center posted a map showing much of the Grand Mesa, Gunnison and Uncompahgre National Forest with conditions for considerable danger of avalanche. You can view the current conditions at http://


The agency encourages visitors to educate themselves before going into areas where an avalanche is possible. To stay safe:

Get the training:

• Take an avalanche course, read an avalanche book and take advantage of online training opportunities on websites like the National Avalanche Center and Avalanche Canada.

• Watch the updated Know Before You Go avalanche safety video.

Get the advisory:

• Check the Colorado Avalanche Center for current conditions in Colorado's high country during periods of elevated avalanche danger.

Get the gear:

• When travelling in avalanche terrain, all members of your party need avalanche rescue gear, such as a transceiver, probes, shovel and backpack.

• One important tool you cannot buy is a partner. Never go alone.

Get the signs:

• The three conditions of unstable snow that can cause an avalanche are slopes steeper than 35 degrees; snowpack weakness, including recent avalanches, collapsing snow that makes a "whumpf" sound, and cracks shooting out in front of your skis or over snow vehicle when you are travelling through the snow.

Safety is of great importance to the Forest Service, whether it is to help ensure the safety of our employees or our visitors. There are inherent dangers in the outdoors. It is everyone's responsibility to ensure the safety of themselves and others around them.

For more information about being safe on national forests, visit Know Before You Go.

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