“It’s a tricky time”; Ski tour groups explain decision to remain open during historic avalanche season

BOULDER — Avalanche concerns are at an all-time high in the Colorado mountains, questions have been raised regarding the safety of conducting backcountry tours.

On Thursday, a tour guide was buried and killed in an avalanche near Jones Pass.

Powder Addiction Snowcats has identified that victim as Hans Berg, an employee with the company.

Comments on their Facebook page have been critical, with many wondering why they were running guides in current conditions at all.

“Without knowing how the whole decision making of that day played out, I think that’s a hard thing to judge,” says Russell Hunter.

Hunter owns Colorado Mountain School, a Boulder-based company that specializes in avalanche safety tours.

Colorado Mountain School safety training

He says he’s had daily conversations with his risk-management team this week, about whether to shut down backcountry operations until the avalanche danger subsides. Ultimately, they’ve made the decision to stay open, albeit with some changes.

Most notably, they’re avoiding steep terrain, and areas prone to avalanches.

“Everything gets a more conservative decision,” he says. “Any potential path above you, you’re giving plenty of birth. We’re not pushing things right now, because it’s a tricky time.”

Hunter says he hasn’t had any customers cancel reservations because of avalanche danger yet.

“We feel like we can still provide the client experience, but just dial it way back,” he says. “That gives us a chance to educate why we’re dialing it way back, and that’s good for people going into the backcountry, because they see a professional guide making conservative decisions, and that’s what we’re teaching our students to do.”

Hunter says backcountry skiers need to have beacons, shovels, and probes with them, even on moderate terrain.

“It’s also a minimum requirement to have education,” he says.

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