Avalanche danger remains high in Colorado’s western mountains
Avalanche mitigation on I-70 continued Sunday
While much of the Colorado backcountry avalanche forecast has been downgraded to “considerable” from the “high” and “extreme” warnings issued late last week, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center said Sunday that mountain ranges in western Colorado continue to be at high risk for slides.
“We spend a lot of time talking to observers — people retired from CDOT, from the CAIC, and others. Nobody who is alive has ever seen anything like this,” said Dr. Ethan Greene, Colorado Avalanche Information Center director, during a conference call Thursday afternoon.
Between Feb. 27 and March 7, more than 300 avalanches thundered down Colorado mountain slopes, with the avalanche center expecting the total to have risen by more than 100 additional slides through the weekend. The size of the slides is also on the rise.
“The avalanches are running much larger than they have, in some cases, for maybe 50 to 100 years,” said Spencer Logan, an avalanche forecaster with the center.
To date, the slides have resulted in two fatalities. On March 3, a backcountry skier was caught, buried, and killed in an avalanche near Lizard Head Pass. The latest fatality, on March 7, occurred when a skier was buried and killed in an avalanche near Jones Pass on the Front Range.
Avalanches, some caused by mitigation work, resulted in temporary closures of mountain roads — including frequent closures on Interstate 70 and on U.S. Highway 40 — and prompted a notice from CDOT urging drivers to avoid the I-70 mountain corridor Thursday.
During the winter of 2013-2014, CDOT experienced 616 hours of road closures due to avalanche control.. Crews triggered 283 avalanches with explosives, handled 158 natural occurrences, and spent 8,908 hours on mitigation.
The interstate was closed again Sunday, March 10.
“On Sunday, historic-sized avalanches ran long distances taking out large areas of mature forest in the Aspen and Sawatch (mountain) zones,” reported the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. “Although this activity is expected to taper today, the size of avalanches will remain historic, and we can see continued natural avalanche activity today.”
Until the danger abates, CDOT and CAIC are advising people to avoid travel in or below avalanche terrain. This includes staying off backcountry roads and out of structures below avalanche paths without active avalanche mitigation plans.
Anyone who encounters an avalanche or powder cloud while driving is advised to do the following:
• Reduce speed
• Pull to the shoulder, if possible
• Turn off vehicle
• Remain in car
• Call 911 and request help
• Have an emergency kit and adequate traction. An emergency kit should include jumper cables, flares or reflective triangles, ice scraper, car cellphone charger, blanket, map, cat litter or sand for traction, food, and water.
For information on travel conditions and road closures, visit cotrip.org or call 511.