Avalanche season not over yet, experts warn

DENVER (AP) The roads are dry, grass is green and winds are warmer, but experts are warning backcountry travelers Colorado's avalanche season isn't over yet.

Forecaster Scott Toefer says a season-long worry about unstable snowpack is lingering into spring this year, even though the Colorado Avalanche Information Center's hotline has shut down for the summer.

And sunny, warm days can bring a new set of dangers, including slides triggered when dark-colored rocks absorb heat and melt the snow around them. High along ridges, cornices can collapse under their own weight, sending house-size blocks of snow sliding downslope, he said.

High-country guides say that as a rule of thumb, mountaineers should complete their treks by midday to avoid seasonal dangers, including the threat of lightning.

"It was an interesting winter," Toepfer said. "Usually we get some big storms that result in a big avalanche cycle. That cleans out the slide paths."

But this season, Toepfer said, a succession of smaller storms brought a series of renewed avalanche cycles. On average, avalanches kill six people in Colorado each year. So far this season, snowslides have claimed four lives _ two backcountry skiers, one backcountry snowboarder and a snowmobiler.

Toepfer said 112 people reported being caught in avalanches this season.

The number of avalanches reported to the center this year tallied near average, about 2,900, he said.

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