A lack of snowfall in February and early March created a firm crust of snow on Colorado’s mountains. But recent storms have dropped fresh powder, overwhelming that hardened base which creates an increased potential for avalanches.
“Typically most avalanches happen during or after a storm cycle ends. So sometimes it’s a really good idea to rein it in a little bit. Let that new snow settle, gain a little bit of strength. So contain your energy just a little bit,” said Scott Toepfer, mountain weather and avalanche forecaster for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. “Pick a lower angle slope for instance, where avalanches just don’t want to run. Once that snow gets a chance to settle out you can start pushing those bigger lines.”
Toepfer monitors conditions reported from ski areas across the state and combines that with a weather forecast to get an idea of what the avalanche danger is on any given day.
“It looks like there are places in our mountains that are going to get a foot or more of snow by Saturday. And it’s coming in with a lot of wind as well,” he warns.
Toepfer also reviews avalanche reports and sometimes gets video from skiers lucky enough to escape with their lives. He analyzes the skiers mistakes and gives credit where credit is due.
“When those pole straps are around your wrists they’re like sea anchors and they’ll drag you down,” he says of a skier seen on camera plummeting down a steep slope on the Vail summit zone on March 19.
That skier did a lot right, making sure the wrist straps were off , keeping his skis pointed downhill, allowing his skis to a tree before him.
In a video of a Berthoud Pass avalanche on March 25, Toepfer credits another couple of skiers with keeping a good line of sight on one another.
“He is staying off to the side of the path which is generally a good thing to do because he’s got an escape route out to his left,” he said.
Be aware of conditions before you head out to the backcountry. Bring the right gear to get yourself out of a jam and be sure to check http://avalanche.state.co.us/ for the latest avalanche forecast.