Pitkin County 911 Center launches new system to better locate those lost Colorado's backcountry

Colorado Department of Transportation_US 550 avalanche
Posted at 9:24 AM, Jan 10, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-10 11:24:27-05

ASPEN, Colo. — Recent snow in Colorado's high country created epic conditions for skiers and other mountain enthusiasts, but there’s also an increased avalanche danger.

“And that is going to be the pattern for us as we move through this week and into the weekend and early next week,” said Brian Lazar, deputy director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC). “The snow is going to improve recreation. It’s going to improve our overall snowpack picture. But it is going to mean that our low danger periods that people got used to during our drought spell in December are over for the foreseeable future.”

“Snow is great, especially this time of year for things like our snowpack, for recreation opportunities and for our wildlife, as well,” said Kara Van Hoose, spokesperson for Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW). “But with it comes some dangers. So that’s why we want everybody to be aware if they’re going into the backcountry.”

The Pitkin County 911 Center in Aspen, along with Hexagon, a Swedish technology company, are launching a new system that will help search and rescue crews better pinpoint the locations of lost skiers, hikers and those potentially trapped in avalanches or other emergencies.

“That is great news,” Lazar said. “Anytime you’re able to triangulate or pinpoint people’s positions if they’re lost or in trouble, that’s going to really help out search and rescue teams, for example.”

Lazar said while this new technology is great, your best bet is still planning and preparation.

“It’s important to note that that does little for avalanche victims,” Lazar said. “So, if you’re in the backcountry or caught or buried in an avalanche, you don’t have time for search and rescue to mobilize and get to you. So, your only realistic chance of coming out of an avalanche alive once you’ve been buried is for your partners to find and dig you out.”

Because of a weak snow base from December, fresh snow has created extreme avalanche conditions since the top layers of snow are sitting on a very unstable base. Experts suggest backcountry skiers take a multi-pronged safety approach:

  • Check the avalanche forecast before you go
  • Bring the proper gear, including an avalanche transceiver, a shovel, and a probe
  • Travel with partners
  • Make sure your trip is well-planned and suitable for the current conditions.

“And when you have that plan, really stick to the plan while you’re out there,” Van Hoose said. “Don’t take risks.”
Van Hoose suggests snowshoers, hikers, and others use the COTREX app for the latest information.

“It’s the only state-approved trail map and it’s owned by land managers. Over 500 land managers in the state contribute to this. So you know when you’re on that trail that this is an approved trail, the conditions are up to date and you’re not going to get lost,” said Van Hoose.

Pitkin County 911 Center launches new system to better locate those lost Colorado's backcountry

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