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Avalanche danger is climbing across Colorado’s high country

Heavy snowstorms have created “a sure recipe for avalanches,” state agency warns

A sign warning avalanches on Cameron Pass on Colorado State 14 Highway on Dec. 26, 2021, outside Walden. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)
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Heavy snowstorms that started last week have ratcheted up the avalanche danger in the Colorado mountains, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center warned.

Nearly all of the Colorado high country was under “considerable” avalanche danger Monday, with only the Sangre de Cristo and Culebra mountain ranges on the eastern side of the San Luis Valley at a lower “moderate” level. 

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“These are unusual conditions,” said Ethan Greene, who heads the CAIC. “The last few storms were dense, wet snow, which puts a lot of water weight on the existing snowpack underneath – a sure recipe for avalanches.”

Conditions are likely to get worse in coming days with more snowstorms in the forecast, Greene said, adding the most important thing motorists and backcountry skiers can do is keep up on current information by checking avalanche.state.co.us for avalanche warnings or cotrip.org for road conditions.

The biggest warning sign of avalanche danger for backcountry skiers is seeing other avalanches nearby, Greene said. Skiers should also watch for large cracks in snowbanks, stay off steep terrain, and should carry probe poles, transceivers and shovels.

“That’s why it’s so important to pay attention to warnings before you head out – if you’re caught in an avalanche, oftentimes your options are pretty much gone,” he said.

A backcountry skier was killed by an avalanche on Cameron Peak west of Fort Collins on Christmas Eve, the first avalanche death in Colorado this season. Another skier was buried by an avalanche near Ophir in the San Juan mountains on Christmas Day, but escaped uninjured, the CAIC reported. Interstate 70 over Vail Pass was closed for avalanche mitigation work on Monday morning, with more intermittent closures expected, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation.

Avalanches killed 12 people in Colorado last winter, matching a high previously set in the winter of 1992-93.