The Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) recently published an in-depth report related to how the COVID-19 pandemic and correlated surge of backcountry use has impacted avalanche numbers in Colorado. One key finding was that while the number of backcountry beginners involved in avalanches stayed similar before and after the pandemic and the number of intermediate users involved in avalanches actually decreased, the number of advanced skiers involved in avalanches spiked.
Another trend discovered in the report was that more avalanche-related accidents occurred during 'considerable' avalanche risk days, despite less total 'considerable' risk days during the season. This could show that fewer people are heeding the warnings posted by the service. The CAIC insists that those entering the backcountry check the avalanche risk report on their website first.
Compared to previous years, 2020 has seen the fourth-most people caught or killed during avalanche-related incidents since 2000, following the highest-ever number of people caught or killed during avalanche-related incidents in 2019. Close to 100 people have been caught or killed by an avalanche in Colorado thus far in 2020.
During their analysis, the CAIC categorized those involved in avalanches based on their skill level. Fifteen percent were beginner, 25 percent were intermediate, 47 percent were advanced, and 8 percent were expert.
According to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, results from this study align with previous research that has indicated that avalanche education does not reduce avalanche exposure. Their findings suggest that those with safety training spend more time in avalanche prone areas and risky conditions.
Another interesting finding from the CAIC study was that most avalanche incidents during the 2019-2020 season occurred during level 2 (moderate) risk, accounting for 60 percent of incidents. Thirty percent of avalanches occurred during level 3 risk (considerable) risk.
With participation in backcountry snow sports expected to skyrocket during the 2020-2021 season amid an uptick in other outdoor recreation sports during the pandemic, continued education of the public on avalanche safety is crucial. The CAIC has plans to continue to push out high-quality information and education throughout the season and encourages those entering the backcountry to take a safety course first. With medical and emergency resources likely to be strained due to the fight against the pandemic, preventing accidents in the backcountry is a must.
Visit the Colorado Avalanche Information Center website prior to any backcountry excursion where encountering accumulated snow is a possibility. Knowing how to safely avoid at-risk areas is crucial to your safety and the safety of others on the mountain, including those that you may not be aware of.