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CAIC: Avalanches were less frequent this week, but risk of large, deadly slides still exists

Bonita Peak east of Red Mountain Pass avalanche Jan 12 2022
Posted at 9:36 AM, Jan 13, 2022

SAN JUAN COUNTY, Colo. — The Colorado Avalanche Information Center is warning backcountry travelers that while the frequency of avalanches has decreased this week, large and deadly avalanches are still very possible.

For example, on Wednesday, a skier triggered a large avalanche on Bonita Peak east of Red Mountain Pass, which is in the North San Juan zone on a northwest-facing slope, from about 250 feet away. The slide ended up running 1,100 feet and could have "easily" buried a person, CAIC said. Nobody was injured in the avalanche.

Bonita Peak east of Red Mountain Pass avalanche Jan 12 2022

CAIC said this is a clear example of conditions around much of Colorado. Large, deadly avalanches are possible, even if a backcountry traveler sees previous tracks across the terrain.

"The only way to avoid these avalanches is to avoid traveling on or under steep slopes where this problem exists," CAIC said.

Avalanche danger will remain relatively low Thursday and Friday, with levels at "moderate" and "low" statewide both days.

Use CAIC's map below or here to examine the risks and dangers for each specific zone.

Furthermore, avalanches have decreased in frequency since the last snowfall in the area on Jan. 8. Between Jan. 10 and 12, only 12 avalanches that could bury, injure or kill a person were reported in the state, according to CAIC.

But this doesn't mean conditions are safe, CAIC emphasized. Plus, Friday's mountain snowstorm, however light or brief, may increase dangers.

It explained: "The most dangerous slopes are directly below ridgetop and they face a northerly or easterly direction. On these slopes, previously wind-drifted slabs are thick. They are perched on weak, collapsible layers of snow near the ground. You may not trigger a large avalanche where the slab is thickest. It is hard to affect the weak layer where it is buried deep. The most likely spots are where the slab thins out such as the margins of the slab and near rocks. It is pretty difficult to ascertain snow depth without constant probing or x-ray vision. Your best bet to stay safe is simply to avoid these suspect slopes."

So far this year, three people have died in avalanches in the state.

On Christmas Eve, a skier was caught in an avalanche and killed near Cameron Pass, and on Jan. 8, two snowshoers and their dog were killed in an avalanche near Hoosier Pass south of Breckenridge. In the 2020-2021 season in Colorado, 20 people were caught in avalanches, 14 were buried and 12 people died.