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How to prepare for avalanche danger

USA 4 days ago Denver Post 5

The lack of heavy snow and the mild weather in the mountains may be fostering complacency about avalanche danger in Colorado’s high country. This is a false sense of safety.  I know of two avalanches triggered this week and recent snowfall may exasperate the situation.

The best way to survive an avalanche is not to be in one.  The second best is to be prepared.  Kelli Lewis from Colorado Parks and Wildlife joined me on my radio show last Saturday to share some tips on both.

Though we haven’t had the typical amount of snowfall in the high country this winter, the thawing and refreezing has created some icy crystalized layers.  If these layers give way, it’s like a slab of concrete rushing down the hill.  Add potential snow yet to come and you could have a recipe for disaster.

“It’s not enough to just check the weather before you go,” said Lewis. “Look at the weather trends in the area you are planning your activities.  Always check the Colorado Avalanche Information Center for current and forecast avalanche conditions.  You want to be aware of new snow, rapid temperature rise and potential wind loading.”

Don’t get in the mindset “it won’t happen to me.” Over 100 people die each year in avalanches in North America, a number that’s uncomfortably high considering the relatively small numbers who regularly venture into avalanche terrain. Ninety percent of such incidents are triggered by the victim or someone in their party, and most of those people are experienced skiers, snowboarders, or snowmobilers with some level of avalanche awareness.

Any time you venture into potential avalanche terrain you need to use the buddy system and be properly equipped. The bare-bones basics are a beacon, a probe and a shovel, because you have to be able to find your partners buried in avalanche debris and dig them out — and that has to happen very fast. If dug out within 15 minutes victims have a 90 percent chance of survival if they’ve not been killed by trauma in the fall. After that the odds drop quickly. Only 20 percent of buried victims are still alive after 45 minutes, and beyond two hours few ever survive.

It is also very important you practice with this equipment before you go out. Have your buddy put his beacon inside a pack and bury it (at least three feet down), pinpoint its location with your transceiver and probe, then start digging. Don’t try to figure out what to do under the stress of a life threatening event. These tools are tried and true, but more modern gear is also helping to decrease the chances of injury or death. Wearable avalanche airbag systems are designed to keep people on top of a slide rather than buried in it, which increases the odds of survival significantly. A helmet is also a good idea.

These recommendations are really the bare minimum.  If you spend time in avalanche terrain you should really take a course in avalanche avoidance and survival.  Regardless of you expertise, an avalanche can happen to you.

For current avalanche conditions, visit avalanche.state.co.us.

To hear my entire interview with Kelli Lewis here.

Follow Terry on Facebook at Terry Wickstrom Outdoors.

Join Terry every Saturday morning at 9:00 for all your outdoor information on Terry Wickstrom Outdoors FM 1043 The Fan.

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