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Considerable avalanche danger can be more hazardous than high danger

Statistics show that avalanche fatalities are more likely as the avalanche risk lowers.

COLORADO, USA — The Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) said there have been 329 avalanches over the first eight days of December, 64 triggered by humans. Six people were involved in avalanche incidents, but no injuries have been reported.

More than five feet of fresh snow has fallen in some parts of the mountains since Dec. 1, but the stormy conditions are forecast to clear by the weekend.

The CAIC said high avalanche danger should subside as the snow settles, but they warn backcountry enthusiasts to not let their guard down under the sunny skies.

“Likely we will still have a lot of considerable, so level 3 out of 5 across the state," said CAIC director Ethan Greene. "That’s a very dangerous time period for people because it’s often when the avalanche conditions are not quite so obvious.” 

He said historically most avalanche fatalities happen as the danger levels go down because that’s when there is the most activity in the backcountry.  

A recent study shows that 80% of avalanche fatalities happen during Considerable or Moderate danger, while only 20% of the deaths happen when the threat level is High. 

Credit: KUSA

This weekend will likely be the first time this season where there’s a high number of backcountry users just as the avalanche danger levels drop. 

Greene said it’s important to get the CAIC avalanche forecast before you decide where to go. They issue a new forecast every day at 4:30 PM, and a specific mountain weather forecast twice daily, 4:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. 

You can find that information on their website, or download their newly revamped cell phone app. 

He also said it's important to always have the proper safety gear – a rescue beacon, a shovel and a search probe. And know how to use them.

Victims buried in an avalanche have only minutes of oxygen to breathe.

“Even though we have great rescue response in Colorado, your best chance for survival is if your friends rescue you," said Greene. "So, you are really your own rescue team when you go to the backcountry.” 

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