Our view: Play it smart in the backcountry
January 22, 2019
Steamboat Springs is a recreational paradise, and in the winter, the backcountry calls to people searching for untouched powder and new adventure. But, with that pursuit comes a responsibility to play smart.
Over the past 10 years, an average of 25 people have died in avalanches annually in the U.S., according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, and the large majority of those who are killed were snowmobilers, skiers and snowboarders, out exploring and enjoying the backcountry.
A Roaring Fork Valley man died in an avalanche Monday near Aspen. He was on a backcountry hut trip and was caught in an avalanche while skiing with a friend near the Markley Hut outside Ashcroft.
According to the Aspen Times, the CAIC had issued a special avalanche advisory Saturday through Monday, warning that backcountry travelers can easily trigger "very large and deadly avalanches."
At a glance
At issue: The recent heavy snowfall makes the bountiful backcountry around Steamboat Springs enticing but also at risk for avalanches.
Our view: To avoid a deadly avalanche, those heading to the backcountry should do their homework, exercise extreme caution and be prepared.
• Logan Molen, publisher
• Lisa Schlichtman, editor
• Mike Burns, community representative
• Melissa Hampton, community representative
Contact the Editorial Board at 970-871-4221 or lschlichtman@
Since Jan. 11, the CAIC reports that it has documented 10 people caught in avalanches, 44 avalanches triggered by backcountry travelers and over 280 avalanches in total.
Routt County Search and Rescue has responded to eight rescues since the first of the year, which Jay Bowman, president of the volunteer organization, said is a busier start to the year than usual. In at least one incident, the person who had to be rescued did not know the area and was not properly equipped for backcountry skiing.
Not only do these individuals risk their own lives, but they also put in jeopardy the lives of the volunteers who are called out to rescue them.
The recent heavy snowfall in Northwest Colorado has elevated the avalanche danger in the Steamboat and Flat Tops Wilderness Area zones to "considerable," which means dangerous avalanche conditions exist, and those traveling in the backcountry in our area need to be extremely cautious and know the area they are exploring. The CAIC cautions people to exercise "cautious route-finding and conservative decision-making" when heading out to the backcountry.
Avalanches are formed by a combination of terrain, weather and snowpack, and accurately assessing those three factors can help keep you and your group out of a potential avalanche path.
It's essential that people know how to recognize avalanche danger and avoid it, and it's also important they are properly equipped and know how to use their rescue equipment. And, people should always make sure they have a working cellphone with them that is fully charged.
The CAIC posts daily updates about avalanche danger across the state, and that information can be accessed at https://avalanche.state.co.us. The organization also offers a Know Before You Go course that covers the five backcountry basics that everyone should adhere to:
- Get the gear.
- Get the training.
- Get the forecast.
- Get the picture.
- Get out of harm's way.
These guidelines are meant to help people get outside and enjoy the backcountry safely, and we also encourage people to take an approved avalanche safety course to protect themselves and others.
Ultimately, it is the responsibility of anyone who sets out for the backcountry to check avalanche conditions, understand the implications before they go and, once out there, use sound judgment and be as self-reliant as possible.