Colorado avalanche conditions "unusual" and "very dangerous" heading into holiday weekend

Posted at 11:19 AM, Feb 12, 2021

DENVER — Beware in the backcountry this weekend: Avalanche conditions are considered to be "unusual" and "very dangerous" as winter storms move across the mountains, officials said Friday.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) issued a special avalanche advisory Friday, warning that people in the backcountry "can trigger avalanches that may break very widely and run the full length of the avalanche path."

"Your normal routes and safety habits may not keep you out of a dangerous avalanche," the CAIC posted. "Backcountry travelers need to take extra precautions this weekend."

The CAIC had already warned Coloradans earlier this week about expected avalanche dangers ahead of the holiday weekend. Most of the I-70 mountain corridor is under an avalanche watch or advisory, including areas further north in Steamboat Springs and further south in Aspen.

The avalanche watch in those areas started 7 a.m. Friday and expire 8 p.m. Saturday.

The mountains are expected to get up to a foot of snow, or more, in some areas, with Vail and Steamboat both expected to get 4-6 inches through Saturday morning.

This year, Colorado has unusually well-distributed weak snow layers across the Rockies. This weak snowpack — the weakest since 2012, CAIC said — plus new snowfall and wind, has created dangerous conditions in many areas, including those that may have been considered "safe zones" in years past. The state saw dozens of "very large avalanches" like one on Kebler Pass during the weekend of Feb. 6-7, CAIC said.

Ethan Greene, director of the CAIC, said this year is Colorado's worst avalanche season in about a decade.

"We are having a pretty bad avalanche year," Greene said. "And with the new snow the avalanche danger is going to be on the rise this weekend. So people really need to take avalanche safety seriously."

Jan. 30 through Feb. 6 was the most deadly week in the United States for avalanches in more than a century. In that time period, 15 people died in avalanches in the U.S. — the most in that time frame since 1910, when 96 people died in a massive avalanche in Washington.

Of the 15 who died, four were from Colorado — three died in an avalanche near Ophir and one died in an avalanche near Vail.

Since 1950, avalanches have killed more people in Colorado than any other natural hazard, according to the Colorado Geological Survey.