COLORADO SPRINGS – The cycle of sunny days followed by weekends full of snow makes for some hazardous conditions outdoors both in the high country as well as in the foothills outside of Colorado Springs.
At higher elevations, every new layer of snow creates a shelf. The top layer of snow may appear stable to the naked eye, but it can quickly slide on lower layers creating an avalanche. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center reports that there are exceptional avalanche conditions throughout the Front Range mountains, Vail & Summit County, the Sawatch Range, Aspen, Gunnison, and Grand Mesa.
Professional skier Maui Matt calls it your worst nightmare.
“There’s not much you can do when something does happen,” he said.
There are so many shelves in the back county that he said no one should leave the designated boundaries of the ski resorts.
“Basically, it’s the waiting and letting the snow pack and settle,” Matt said.
El Paso County Search and Rescue volunteer Teresa Burgess said people who choose to not listen to avalanche warnings not only put themselves at risk, but they also risk the lives of rescue teams who respond to those disasters.
“You’ve put at least 20 people at risk because of a bad decision,” she said.
El Paso County’s volunteers are occasionally called to help someone missing or injured while skiing in the back country on Pikes Peak. A much more common type of rescue call happens on our trails.
“Because it doesn’t look bad, the sun is shining, but they forget there may be a layer of ice under that gravel,” Burgess said.
Each new snowfall melts as the temperatures warm up. But those puddles freeze beneath a layer of dirt or fresh snow. Burgess urges hikers planning to head up Barr Trail or the Incline to wear shoe spikes to prevent slips and falls on the ice.
“Just be prepared for anything and hopefully you won’t need it,” Burgess said.