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Weak snowpack leads to avalanches across Colorado

February's conditions with very little snow created weak snowpack. With fresh snow in March, the weak layer is close to the surface and easily triggered.

COLORADO, USA — In the past day and a half, there have been 21 reported avalanches in Colorado. Two people have died in slides since Thursday.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center said the slides are being triggered by a weak snow layer, which formed throughout the month of February when there was little snowfall. 

"Now that we are starting to add more snow on top of that really weak snow, we are starting to see these avalanche problems," said Mike Cooperstein, CAIC Lead Forecaster for Northern Mountains. "This weak layer is weaker than a lot of times we have this time of year, so I think it is catching people off guard in that respect. It’s also buried pretty close to the surface, so it’s only about two to three feet deep, which makes it really easy for skiers to affect it." 

Weak layers typically get buried deeper into the snowpack, which makes them harder to impact. That isn't the case this time, making some areas dangerous. 

Colorado typically averages six fatalities each year. Over the weekend, we hit that number. Last winter, there were 12 deaths. 

"We had a really bad avalanche year for deaths last year, and we are really hoping that we don’t see something similar for this year," Cooperstein said. 

Typically, the state doesn't report any snowshoer deaths at all. This year, three snowshoers have died in avalanches. Cooperstein said most of those deaths have occurred when snowshoers venture into avalanche territory and don't realize it.

Right now, the most problematic slopes are those that face north and east. Avalanche experts warn those who recreate in the backcountry to avoid those slopes where most of the problems are occurring.

RELATED: Skier killed in avalanche near Steamboat Springs

RELATED: Avalanche kills 29-year-old Telluride man

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