LOVELAND, Colo. — As the sun set on the top of Loveland Pass Tuesday evening, Steve Mondek and Elizabeth Culbertson hopped out of their Subaru, shuffled onto an icy path, and looked down at the backcountry terrain below.
“You know, just kind of assessing the slope, the angle. Where the wind is blowing, where the snow has been wind loaded a bit," said Mondek, trying to visualize the route he and Culbertson would soon take. "A lot of that could definitely break and slide, and it has.”
He’s right to be cautious. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) recorded 185 avalanches over the last week, thanks in part to heavy snowfall. Of those slides, 75 were big enough they could have buried someone caught in them. But only seven people got caught in an avalanche and only six of those people were partially buried, according to CAIC. There were not any fatalities.
A snowboarder got caught with their dog on Saturday on the south side of Loveland Pass. The snowboarder triggered a slide, but neither the dog or rider were buried or injured. CAIC documented the slide with the following photograph.
“Anytime we go out and do anything like this, we make sure we've got a buddy," Mondek said. "The gear; beacon, probe, shovel. Bare minimum.”
The buddy is helpful in case the worst happens. One can quickly locate the other and dig them out. Both riders said they also take a yearly avalanche safety course, something CAIC recommends.
“It's not going to prevent an avalanche. It's not going to prevent a slide. It's going to happen and you've just got to be prepared for the day if it happens,” said Mondek as he and Culbertson prepared to clip in and shoot down a darkening slope at 11,900 feet.
Beyond training, CAIC said it’s important to know what the activity has been like wherever you’re backcountry skiing. Forecasters update the CAIC website daily with those conditions.
As of Tuesday evening, all of Colorado’s mountain regions showed moderate avalanche danger, though that could worsen with a storm predicted later this week.
Mondek and Culbertson said they will keep an eye on the warnings while hoping for a sizeable layer of fresh powder.
“There are some spots where we go that are pretty secluded," he said. "It’s gorgeous. It’s beautiful. It’s worth the hike and exercise.”
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