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More information on avalanches

When are avalanches most likely to occur?

The avalanche danger increases with major snowstorms and periods of thaw. Most avalanches occur during or just after large snowstorms, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

The most avalanche-prone months are January, February and March. Avalanches caused by thaw occur most often in April.



How can backcountry users recognize avalanche terrain?




Most large avalanche paths are obvious: An open slope, bowl or gully above timberline that leads to a swath through the trees. But small avalanche paths in the trees can be just as dangerous. Slope angle is the most important factor, so you should carry a slope meter. Bent or damaged trees are good clues.

How can you keep from getting caught in an avalanche?

You can reliably avoid avalanches by recognizing and avoiding avalanche terrain. Travel at the valley floor away from large avalanche runouts, along ridgetops above avalanche paths, in dense timber, or on slopes of 25 degrees or less that do not have steeper slopes above them. Avoid cornices on ridgetops.

Climb, descend or cross avalanche areas one at a time; cross a slope at the very top or bottom if possible; climb or descend the edge of a slope rather than the center; carry and know how to use avalanche rescue gear; and turn back or alter your route if you detect signs of unstable snow.

What rescue gear should you carry?

You should always have an avalanche transceiver (or beacon), shovel and a collapsible or ski-pole probe. You should practice frequently to be proficient in using your beacon.

What can you do if you are caught in an avalanche?

Surviving avalanches can depend on luck; therefore, it is always better to avoid them in the first place. Remember that only one out of three victims buried without a beacon survives. If you are caught, first try to escape to the side or grab a tree or rock. If you are knocked down, get rid of your poles, skis and a heavy pack. Swim with the avalanche to try to stay on top and avoid trees. When the avalanche slows down, reach the surface or make an air pocket.

“You have about 30 minutes before you plain run out of air,” Minutilli said.


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