IDAHO SPRINGS, Colo. — In less than a week, two people died as a result of avalanches in Colorado, and experts urge skiers and snowboarders to avoid the backcountry while so many parts of the state are experiencing avalanche warnings on this long holiday weekend.
Brian Lazar is the deputy director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC), and said every winter season has its own unique characteristics when it comes to avalanches. So far this season, the CAIC has recorded more than 1,500 avalanches.
"It's very common for us to record thousands of avalanches every season. So this 1,500 might be a little bit ahead of the curve, but it's certainly nothing you know, wildly out of the ordinary," Lazar explained. “One of the characteristics of this season is that we started building our snowpack actually pretty early. And so, we saw enough snow on the ground to spur an avalanche cycle in the first week of December, and that does not happen every year.”
The CAIC only records a fraction of avalanches, since many are never witnessed and reported.
Caitlyn Mensch, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Boulder, said the high country will get another round of snowfall starting on Sunday night, and carry into Monday. Mensch does not believe it will be as impactful as the storm from last week.
“A lot of the people in those mountain locations, and the ski resorts, are going to be pretty happy to get another round of snowfall," Mensch said.
The snow comes on a long holiday weekend for many, and Lazar is anticipating an influx of skiers or snowboarders heading to the mountains on Monday.
“Whenever we've got very dangerous avalanche conditions that coincide with holiday periods, we get really worried about potential accidents," Lazar said. "When snow comes fast and furious like it did over the holiday period, it's common that it will initiate an avalanche cycle.”
Several Colorado mountains are under an avalanche warning, meaning there's a high risk of avalanches in the backcountry. Many of the warnings are a level four, which Lazar said means they could be deadly.
“These are areas which extend from the Steamboat Springs area, to the Aspen and Crested Butte ski areas, all the way down south into the San Juan Mountains. So, it's covering a large swath of Colorado," Lazar said.
CAIC recommends individuals do not travel into the backcountry with such avalanche warnings in place.
“What happens inside the ski area is very, very different than just on the other side of that boundary line," Lazar said. “Inside ski areas, we've got dedicated ski patrol and snow safety teams, which work very hard to reduce the risk from avalanches through mitigation efforts, and no one is doing that kind of work in the backcountry."
The warnings are likely to expire in the next few days, according to Lazar.
“Mother Nature, you know, she doesn't really care that it's our holiday weekend. She doesn't really care that tomorrow [Monday] is a day off. It's dangerous avalanche conditions that are going to last through the holiday period. So, please stay safe," said Lazar.
To find the most updated information regarding avalanche warnings, visit CAIC's website, or download their mobile app.