The Philosophy Behind Colorado's Tragic Early-Season Avalanches

"We go out in March and ski an avalanche path. It doesn’t avalanche. We’re positively rewarded all month. Then we head out the following December and it slides, possibly with lethal outcomes. Our mountains and our minds are full of slopes “that never slide,” until they do." -Marc Peruzzi, Outside Magazine

Peruzzi, M. (2020, December 24). Last Weekend Was a Deadly One in the Rockies. Outside Magazine. Retrieved From

Colorado is off to a tragic start to the Winter with already four recorded avalanche-related deaths in the state. Two weeks ago there were three backcountry deaths in one weekend, one in Crested Butte and two outside of Silverton. This past weekend, an avalanche killed a man in the First Creek drainage on Berthoud Pass outside of Winter Park. Many people may want to attribute these fatal accidents to the large uptick in new backcountry users, but research is beginning to show that this is not the case. A large percentage of the human-triggered avalanches so far this winter have been caused by experienced backcountry skiers and riders. There is a philosophy behind this as explained in the Outside Magazine article posted above. With the new surge in backcountry users, low consequence, close-in areas have been far busier than years past. These areas are historically what people have skied early-season while the snowpack is still developing and stabilizing. People would eventually venture further out later in the season to higher consequence terrain once the conditions were right. This year, the crowds are forcing people out to those higher-consequence areas earlier than ever and the conditions are just not ready. Experienced backcountry users are now making poor decisions based on their knowledge of those areas under later season conditions. Please be careful out there, test the snowpack, ski with a buddy, wear a beacon, and do not ski anything that is not ready to be skied!