Fresh snow calls your name. The promise of a developing storm keeps you awake at night, and draws you early from your slumber to check the snow reports. As you move through your morning routine of gathering ski gear and suiting up for the day, images of powder turns float through your mind as you formulate your plan of attack.  You will maximize every run and score endless untouched snow. Soon enough, you’re making your way to the resort as an emerging morning sun illuminates untouched slope after untouched slope along your commute. You can taste the powder, it’s so near. Your excitement for the day builds to an excruciating level during your first chairlift ride, as you witness skiers and snowboarders carving their signature down the powder-choked slopes of the resort. You are captivated by the thrill and the sublime sensation of skiing and snowboarding in untracked fresh POWDER. But are you really willing to die for the experience?

Currently, Colorado’s snowpack is sliding down its mountains at an alarming frequency, taking enthusiastic backcountry users with it — not yahoo, cliff-jumping extremists from the latest Warren Miller flick, but regular, hard-working people like you and me.

The current avalanche conditions are High and Considerable in the backcountry around Breckenridge. The marvelous fresh snow that fills our dreams — and gives us the greatest of excitement and sensation — has been revealing its ugly side again and again and again, in the form of terrifyingly consistent avalanches.

But this dangerous trend of user-triggered slides doesn’t have to continue. Not with you, at least. The fact that we live in one of the most avalanche-prone locations on our continent does not mean that you have to be the next victim. In fact, the presence of unstable snow in our mountains has resulted in the development and promotion of many resources designed to increase your basic avalanche awareness and improve your backcountry protocols and safety. In other words, Coloradans are taking a stand against the “white dragon” with the goal of safely while pursuing our passion for powder and the wilderness experience.

Teddy Goggin, of Keystone, Colorado, enjoys fresh snow in the Vail backcountry following the February 1st storm. User beware, while Teddy was waist deep in remarkable snow, he took several steps to mitigate the avalanche risk - including selecting low angle terrain, riding with a partner, bringing adequate avalanche gear, assessing the snow conditions throughout the day, and managing terrain through his decent.  A lot of intentional work for a few powder turns.

Teddy Goggin enjoys fresh snow in the backcountry following the Feb. 1, 2013 storm. Reader beware: While this image shows Teddy floating carefree through waist deep snow, he took several steps to mitigate the avalanche risk on this day. Those steps included selecting less steep terrain to ski, riding with a knowledgeable and experienced partner, bringing adequate avalanche gear to assist if a rescue scenario presented itself, assessing the changing snow conditions throughout the day, and managing terrain throughout his decent. Teddy put in a lot of intentional work to safely experience a few picture-perfect powder turns.

Fast Facts about our Falling Flakes

(1) Colorado has the most deadly snowpack of any state, with over 21% of all U.S. avalanche fatalities occurring in our mountains.

(2) Nationwide, 93% of avalanche fatalities are male.

(3) Colorado’s snowpack is notoriously weak and avalanche prone. It is categorized as a Continental Snowpack, meaning that it is statistically less deep than the snowpack of other regions and contains many persistent weaker layers that lead to more frequent avalanches, even months after snow has fallen.

(4) The mean age for avalanche victims worldwide is 33 years old, with the greatest risk of incident occurring for backcountry users  between the ages of 16 and 40.

(5) “Sidecountry” slopes, those easily accessible from mountain passes or just beyond resort boundaries, are often uncontrolled by Ski Patrol or Department of Transportation Crews and should be treated as full backcountry zones.  Just because a sidecountry run is close to a safe environment such as a ski resort or an open highway does not decrease the risk of avalanches taking place

Know before you go: Steps you can take to minimize your exposure to slides

(1) Hire a guide.  Why put yourself in a position to entertain decisions that take a lifetime of experience to effectively make when you can hire a guide to do it for you? If you are into backcountry skiing or snowboarding, check out the snowcat operation on Vail Pass for a full day of guided powder excursions.  If you want to earn backcountry turns by hiking or skinning, Apex Guides offers single and multi-day guided tours for intermediate to advanced skiers and riders. The guides have worked their whole professional lives developing the knowledge base and experience to take you safely through the wilderness.  Take advantage of them!

(2) Take an avalanche course, and learn how to safely use the knowledge you receive. Colorado Mountain College offers avalanche awareness, rescue and certification courses at an extremely affordable price. The instructors at CMC are all fully certified avalanche professionals, and they enjoy sharing their knowledge with interested individuals. If the CMC courses are full or the college’s dates don’t work with your schedule, there are many other local organizations offering certified courses to the public.

(3) Stay informed about current avalanche conditions and weather patterns. The powder snow addiction can be explored safely, though doing so requires diligent and consistent work to stay informed and educated as to what is happening to the snowpack. Colorado backcountry enthusiasts rely on daily avalanche and weather forecasts found online at The Colorado Avalanche Information Center‘s webpage.

(4) Purchase AND LEARN HOW TO USE backcountry gear such as avalanche beacons, probes, shovels, avalungs and airbag backpacks. A simple Google search will bring up countless resources on which items and brands are best, or you could head to your local backcountry shop, such as Mountain Outfitters, and speak to a qualified salesperson.

(5) Attend local informational events; Breckenridge Ski Patrol does public demonstrations and talks throughout the season.

Don't let the picture perfect snow fool you.  This picture was taken in bounds in an avalanche controlled area, and Andy Dimmen was wearing an avalanche beacon and avalung.  Again, we have the choice and the power to mitigate avalanche risk, but it takes time, effort, and the ability to say no in the face of epic conditions.

Don’t let the picture perfect snow fool you. This image of Andy Dimmen skiing was taken in-bounds on an avalanche controlled slope, and yet he still chose to bring his avalanche gear for safety. Again, avalanche incidents aren’t an absolute for Colorado backcountry enthusiasts. Indeed, each of us has the power to make the choice to “know before we go.”

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