Photo: Image of March 5, 2019 controlled avalanche of the Disney Slide path which got it’s name after fi lm crew and highway supervisor were killed in 1957 while filming a feature on the power of avalanches. Highway 40 can be seen as snow rumbles toward the valley floor eventually covering the highway several feet deep.     Courtesy Photo

Colorado’s 7th avalanche fatality of this season occurred last week when a slide was triggered on Jones Pass off US 40, south of Winter Park.

48-year-old Hans Berg was a backcountry skier employed by Powder Addiction, a guide service based in Empire that provides snowcat excursions and guided touring. According to the report, Berg was killed in a slide in Clear Creek County last Thursday amid “historic” avalanche conditions.

On Saturday, the state’s 8th fatality occurred in Crested Butte when two men shoveling snow off a rooftop triggered an unintentional release and were buried. One of the two did not survive.

With these deaths, Colorado has now surpassed the average number of six killed seasonally in avalanches across the state.

Ethan Greene, who leads the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC), says the recent avalanche cycle has been “historic.” The conditions leading to the slides date back to early-season snowfall in October and November, which created a weak base layer upon which feet of snow have fallen since last week. Thursday, March 7th, marked the first time in CAIC history that four of its backcountry forecast zones were listed as being under “extreme” conditions.

At the time of press, an avalanche warning had been issued for the Front Range, Vail, Summit, Sawatch, Aspen, Gunnison, Grand Mesa, Sangres, North and South San Juan zones. Wednesday’s potent storm with wet, heavy snow and strong shifting winds will keep avalanche conditions dangerous. Avoid crossing or traveling below avalanche terrain and steep slopes. According to the CAIC, natural and human triggered avalanches are very likely. They could break hundreds or thousands of feet wide and run to valley floors. Avalanches are impacting lower elevations and locations that have not seen avalanche activity in recent years.

The CAIC warns, “This snowpack is not something to be trifled with. Don’t trust snowpack tests. You may not see shooting cracks or hear sounds of the snowpack collapsing but that does not mean much right now. Don’t try to outsmart a dangerous snowpack”. With a deepening snowpack, the outlook for long-term stability is good. For the time being, patience and conservative decisions is mandatory.

Drivers who encounter an avalanche should:

  • Reduce your speed
  • Pull over to shoulder, if possible
  • Turn off your vehicle
  • Remain in your vehicle

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