Mar 3, 2022 - News

Tips on how to avoid avalanches and stay safe in the mountains

A natural avalanche Feb. 23 in the San Juan mountains. Photo courtesy of Byran Jarrett and CAIC.
A natural avalanche Feb. 23 in the San Juan mountains. Photo courtesy of Byran Jarrett and CAIC

Just as you don't hike a 14er without checking the weather for thunderstorms, you don't enter the winter backcountry before you check the avalanche forecast.

What to know: The organization makes it easier than ever to travel with awareness in the mountains by posting daily forecasts online for the entire state.

Be smart: In reporting the story about avalanche deaths this year, John — an avid backcountry skier and snowshoer — couldn't help but take a moment to ask avalanche center director Ethan Greene for tips.

Here's what he shared:

1. Know the avalanche forecast and match it to where you plan to travel.

  • The forecast offers a color-coded breakdown for whether you're above or below treeline and direction of the slopes.
  • "If it's red, you might want to do something else, and if it's green, it may be a great day to go out and go snowshoe," Greene explains.

2. Observe terrain and snow features. The slope angle, shape and quality like trees and rocks all contribute to whether it's safe or not, so you want to know what to look for.

  • "Knowing how to recognize those features is enough to help you avoid getting into those situations," he says.

Other tips: The most dangerous times are after rapid weather changes, whether warm periods like this week or snowstorms like the one rolling in this weekend. "When there's a big snow storm you should wait a few days… so you have time for the snow to stabilize," Greene adds.

  • And if you see indications of unstable snow, such as recent slides or roller balls down the hill, avoid walking up those slopes.

Worthy of your time: The avalanche center's "Know Before You Go" site is a good place to start, but Greene says plenty of other videos and resources about traveling in avalanche terrain are available.

The bottom line: Greene says not to get overly anxious: "We still want people to enjoy the mountains."

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