SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) — After three deadly weekends in Colorado’s mountains, avalanche experts are warning that backcountry conditions will be dangerous again during the busy holiday weekend.
“It is beautiful up here. There is some really great recreation. There’s some lovely new snow out there and there’s lots of places where you can go and enjoy that safely but there’s also some places where you can really get into trouble,” Colorado Avalanche Information Center Director Ethan Greene said.
Colorado has seen 870 avalanches since Dec. 26. According to Greene, that is an unusually high number for the beginning of the season.
“We’re just a little bit early. We’re seeing conditions right now that we would typically see in February,” he said.
CAIC said Summit County is especially dangerous right now. Statewide, the risk level is moderate to considerable. According to Greene, this risk level is where the most fatalities tend to occur.
With more people likely to head into the backcountry during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, CAIC is enhancing its warnings in an effort to save lives.
“If you don’t want to worry about this stuff stay on low-angle slopes,” he said. “There’s beautiful skiing, great snowmobile riding in those lower angle slopes. You can do that without having to worry about avalanches.”
For anyone heading into avalanche terrain, Greene suggests taking more precautions than usual.
“It’s just a little bit more dramatic right now because those signs of instability are disappearing, but we’re still seeing very large avalanches,” he said.
The typical warning signs that an avalanche is imminent include cracking and collapsing snow, other recent avalanches and a hollow sound when walking on snow. According to Greene, those red flags do not necessarily exist right now.
“You’re probably not going see a lot of cracking in the snow. You’re probably not going to hear those wumph [noises]. If you do hear that wumphing sound it’s probably an avalanche that’s starting,” he said.
Greene said the unusual conditions are due to a large amount of early-season snow. It is also the reason why Colorado is seeing more avalanches than usual and why they are bigger than experts would expect.