We know it’s exciting that resorts are getting snow. We know people are longing to float on powder and feel the snow bellow up in their face. But before heading out, before dropping in, before that first turn – do a safety check. Reset your safety awareness. It takes but a moment, and during these current snow conditions, a quick safety check can make a vital difference. Go through your mental check list, double check your decisions with regard to your safety and the safety of those riding with you.
Safety should be the number one priority of skiers and riders. But don’t just take our word for it. The US Forest Service recently put out a call to those venturing in the backcountry to use caution, which is always good advice whether you’re riding in the backcountry or inbounds. The current snowpack conditions in the high country are very conducive to avalanche. Know the conditions of where you are going, especially if the terrain is avalanche terrain. Because of the snowfall pattern so far this winter, the snowpack is exceptionally weak and avalanches on flat or low-angle terrain can be triggered easily. Add new snow and wind and that backcountry snowpack is way overloaded. If you hear a “whumping” sound that should be a red flag that avalanche danger is high where you are.
But safety isn’t something that should only be checked when prompted by conditions. Safety should be checked all.the.time. Avalanches are possible any time there is snow resting on steep terrain. Let’s repeat that: Avalanches are possible any time there is snow resting on steep terrain. Ski resorts provide a very high level of avalanche safety within their boundaries, and the ski industry’s avalanche safety record scores high marks. And while the work that resorts do greatly mitigates the risk of avalanches, it is impossible for resorts to remove all risk completely. Those closure signs are there for a reason. Obey them. And just like a kindergarten field trip, use the buddy system when skiing and riding.
Skiers and riders need to remember, you are responsible for the safety of yourself and those around you. Avalanche potential increases with slope angle, snowfall, wind and rain. Be smart about riding. Take a moment to check your safety measures: check the conditions, check your skills, check your equipment.
1. Know before you go: Read the current avalanche advisory so you know what conditions to expect. In Colorado, go to www.colorado.gov/avalanche.
2. Get educated: Take an avalanche class or avalanche awareness seminar so you know how to use the information in the avalanche advisory and recognize avalanche terrain.
3. Carry proper equipment: Carry avalanche rescue equipment, such as an avalanche beacon, shovel probe pole and maybe a Recco tab or airbag, so you are ready if something goes wrong. Travel in a group and make sure everyone knows how to use their rescue gear.
Make it a great season by being safe and you’ll enjoy many more seasons in the future.
References for Additional Information:
• U.S. Forest Service, National Avalanche Center: http://www.fsavalanche.org/basics/basic_index.html
• Colorado Avalanche Information Center: http://www.colorado.gov/avalanche
• American Avalanche Association: http://www.avalanche.org