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Backcountry skiers triggered more than 10 avalanches in San Juan Mountains this week

No serious injures, but dangerous close calls, Colorado Avalanche Information Center says
Backcountry skiers have triggered more than 10 avalanches in the San Juan Mountains since Monday, Colorado Avalanche Information Center records show.

Since Monday, backcountry skiers have triggered more than 10 avalanches in the San Juan Mountains, and while no one was seriously injured, there have been some dangerous close calls, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

There have been six reports of skier-triggered avalanches in the Wolf Creek Pass area and another five in the western San Juan Mountains. And, it should be noted, that’s just from reports people voluntarily submitted to the center.

On Monday, near Wolf Creek Pass, a party of skiers was caught in a relatively small avalanche that went up to the skiers’ knees, according to the report. No one was injured.

On Tuesday, also near Wolf Creek Pass, a skier was “knocked over and partially buried, head and one arm and ski out.” Another skier had to help the person extricate.

“No injuries or broken gear, so we were thankful for the somewhat gentle reminder that accidents can happen anywhere and it’s good to have partners that can rescue you in case of one,” the person who wrote the report said.

On Thursday, north of Silverton, one skier was caught in two avalanches in a row.

Avalanche danger remains high throughout the state, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center said.

According to the report, the skier was caught and carried about 100 to 130 feet and deployed an airbag. The skier was “pushed and knocked around but able to stay upright.”

The skier then came to a stop and got the airbag operational again. Attempting to ski down, the skier was caught in a second avalanche, carried another 100 to 130 feet and deployed the airbag again.

“Similar to (the first) slide ... skier was caught, carried and knocked around but able to ski to right of deposition path just before being carried into trees,” according to the report.

Avalanche danger remains a concern across the state.

The CAIC posted to social media Friday morning that people triggered 12 avalanches just on Thursday.

“Our current weak and dangerous snowpack persists,” the CAIC wrote. “There is potential for avalanches to be exceptionally fatal this winter in Colorado.”

Snowpack has not been this unstable and weak (thus creating high avalanche danger) since 2012, Ethan Greene, CAIC executive director, said in a previous interview.

The unstable snowpack is a result of early season snow in October and dry weather for weeks in November, causing the snowpack to become weak. Then, additional snow on top of that weak layer causes avalanches.

“How weak the snowpack gets depends on how the fall unfolds,” Greene said previously. “This particular year, the underlying snowpack is really weak.”

So far this winter season, four people have died in avalanches.

Two of those deaths happened northwest of Silverton.

On Dec. 19, two Durango men – Dr. Jeff Paffendorf, 53, and Albert Perry, 55, known to friends as “Bert” – were caught in a fatal avalanche in an area known as Battleship, south of Ophir Pass.

The pair were considered experienced backcountry skiers, but Greene said it’s likely that snowpack is so bad right now, even places people are familiar with present dangers not seen in past years.

According to the CAIC, avalanche danger on Friday in the southern San Juan Mountains is listed as “considerable.”

“Avalanche conditions are slowly easing, but many slopes remain dangerous,” the report said. “Without a new load, you may not see natural avalanche activity, but many slopes are very weak and just waiting for a trigger.”


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