'Ferocious' landscape-altering winds have recently resulted in heightened avalanche risk across several backcountry zones in Colorado.
According to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC), the avalanche danger is up to "considerable” – a 3 of 5 – on Thursday for the backcountry zones of Vail, Summit County, and the Front Range.
Wild winds occurring overnight on Wednesday in the high country hit 80 miles per hour at Berthoud (11,307 feet) and Loveland passes (11,990 feet).
Glen Haven also reported high winds gusting up to 99 miles per hour, while Crisman and Boulder saw 94 mile-per-hour winds, according to the National Weather Service.
The CAIC warned of the increased slide risk on Thursday stating to, "avoid steep slopes and terrain connected to steep slopes especially on the eastern side of the compass and especially where those slopes have a smooth, rounded, pillow-like appearance."
Both human triggered and natural avalanches are possible. Careful snowpack evaluation, cautious route-finding, and conservative decision making are essential. Proper safety equipment is also important, including a beacon, shovel, and probe. Always carry these items with you when traveling into the backcountry and know how to use them.
Colorado recorded its first avalanche death of the snow season on December 18th near Crested Butte.
Just days later, two skiers were killed in a large avalanche that occurred in the backcountry near Silverton.
Zones at "moderate" risk include the Grand Mesa, Aspen, Steamboat and Flat Tops, Gunnison, Sawatch, the Northern and Southern San Juans, and Sangre De Cristo.
Snow is in the forecast for the northern half of the state this weekend, bringing even more avalanche danger to the backcountry. Strong winds are expected to continue for several areas of the state from Thursday into Friday.
Joel Gratz of OpenSnow is predicting snow accumulations of 1 to 6 inches in Saturday's storm, with additional powder chances likely for Monday and Tuesday.
Editor's Note: Before heading into the backcountry, always check the current avalanche and weather forecast. Play it safe and delay backcountry travels as necessary. If you’re entering the backcountry, take an avalanche safety course first. For more information about the avalanches that occur in the state and current risk levels updated daily, please visit colorado.gov/avalanche.