Avalanche Dangers For Skiers and Snowboarders in Backcountry

Colorado has already seen one death this year as a result of an avalanche. On December 5, two men were skiing in Dry Gulch when an avalanche was triggered around one o’clock in the afternoon. Both men were buried, but 31-year-old Justin Latici was able to dig himself out. He searched for his friend, 32-year-old Kyle Shellberg, but by the time he found him, it was too late. Latici administered CPR until help arrived, but Shellberg never regained consciousness. Could this tragedy have been prevented?

It would be easy to say that perhaps these two skiers were unprepared for the dangers present in the Backcountry. The truth is, they took several precautions before venturing into the wilderness. They checked the avalanche forecast, which didn’t report any immediate danger. They took equipment with them, including probes, shovels, location beacons, and AvaLungs. And they had both ski patrolled at Loveland Basin for a few years. Few people could have been more prepared than Latici and Shellberg were.

Sadly, it’s just impossible to predict when and where an avalanche may occur, and what might trigger it. If you decide to ski or snowboard in the Backcountry, be sure to take the following precautions. They truly may save your life.

  • Read the information about avalanche awareness provided by the National Snow and Ice Data Center.
  • Check the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) for current avalanche forecasts and conditions before setting out.
  • Take the proper avalanche safety gear with you.
  • Avoid going out alone. Being in a group of at least two or more increases your chances of surviving an avalanche.

Aside from the danger of an avalanche, remember to adhere to the usual safety precautions for skiing and snowboarding as well. Review Colorado skiing and snowboarding safety tips before you go. And if you fall and hit your head while skiing, even if no injury is apparent, consider seeking medical attention. Actress Natasha Richardson fell during a skiing lesson, and showed no indication of injury. Approximately an hour later, she died of a head injury.

Finally, just use some common sense. Stick to established trails, and don’t go out when bad weather is expected. Nature is unpredictable, but the more prepared you are, the safer you’ll be.