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Rare extreme avalanche warning issued after mountains get nearly 8 feet of snow

BOULDER, Colo. -- Avalanche forecasters are telling people to stay out of the back country in areas like Crested Butte and Gunnison because of historic avalanche danger.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center has active warnings in six of the 10 avalanche zones it monitors from its headquarters in Boulder. The zone near Crested Butte has received a higher extreme warning” that is in effect through Friday.

“This is a really rare occurrence for us,” CAIC forecaster Mark Cooperstein said. "It’s maybe six to eight times a decade that we get an avalanche danger that’s extreme.”

The heightened avalanche conditions are the result of extreme weather.

According to avalanche experts, the seasonal snowfall started later than usual in Colorado’s mountains, which didn’t provide a good base for the storm that rolled in the first few days of January.

“This time is so different because it’s so much snow in such a short amount of time,” Cooperstein said.

Crested Butte received 90 inches of new snow over the past 10 days. Experts said conditions like that can create avalanches 20 feet deep or more.

“A very big avalanche for these conditions is something that can knock down trees, it can destroy a car,” Cooperstein said. “They’re very likely and they’re going to be very big and they’re going to be bigger than normal. Almost historic size.”

The CAIC is urging people to avoid back country areas during the warnings and extreme warning.

In the avalanche condition report for the Aspen zone, the CAIC wrote: “In the meantime, keep working on those new skills and party tricks, like juggling, throat-singing, or fire-walking.”