Back country skiers warned about avalanche danger in Colorado mountains

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BERTHOUD PASS, Colo. -- High avalanche danger across Colorado remained in effect Wednesday with snowfall and strong winds in the higher elevations.

Colorado Department of Transportation crews spent the day working on avalanche mitigation, while others were using the dangerous conditions to their advantage.

Despite the risk, some avid back-country skiers and snowboarders hit the trailhead near the top Berthoud Pass, where the snowpack is high and topped with a fresh layer of untouched powder.

“The snow is wonderful, but it's not particularly safe,” veteran back-country snowboarder Kevin Labella said.

Strong, swirling winds make conditions extreme and prime for avalanches.

“(Tuesday), I was trapped up here because there were slides on both sides of the pass,” Labella said.

“We both obviously have beacons and shovels and probes,” said Vince Sanders, a longtime back-country boarder who is chairman of the Board of Never Summer Industries, a Denver-based snowboard company.

“We’re keeping it to old growth tree runs and over on the west side of the pass where they used to have the chairlift run."

On Wednesday, Sanders was teaching his daughter how to navigate back-country terrain.

“I'm keeping her to a relatively low angle runs that are safer and a little less avalanche prone,” Sanders said.

It's the same for Labella

“I'm claustrophobic, so I'm petrified of avalanches,” Labella said of the precautions he takes.

“If you do get trapped, you breathe through this,” he said while breathing through an AviLung.

He also wore a beacon and an avalanche pack.

But because of easy access to many of the Front Range’s best back-country spots means anyone can pull over for a quick and free run downhill.

“It's sad to see people that don’t have the experience, and maybe don’t understand and see others that do and think that they can follow,” Labella said.

That's why search and rescue crews remain on high alert, hoping no one gets lost, caught or trapped in areas where avalanche dangers remain high.

The signs warning people of avalanche danger are seen all over the Front Range. The warning expires Thursday morning.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center said because this is public land, people are free to take the risk. It just hopes they are being safe at the same time.

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