First Avalanche Death of 2018, Tips to Avoid Becoming a Victim

The backcountry skiing spot known as Sam's Trees, where the fatal avalanche took place.
The backcountry skiing spot known as Sam's Trees, where the fatal avalanche took place. YouTube
Update: The victim of 2018's first fatal avalanche, described below, has been identified. Get details in the item headlined "Abel Palmer, First Avalanche Victim of 2018: 'Legends Never Die.'" Continue for our previous coverage.

Original post: The first avalanche death in Colorado circa 2018 took place on Sunday, January 21, during a weekend that saw the most significant winter storm of the season in a relatively snow-starved period hit large sections of Colorado. The incident, which took place between Red Mountain Pass and the Town of Silverton in an area known to locals as Sam's Trees, serves as a tragic reminder about the importance of safety, as spelled out in ten tips from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center about how to avoid being killed in such a slide.

First official word about the accident came from CAIC, which issued a one-sentence synopsis of the accident covering the information shared above and promised a more detailed report later this week.

Also weighing in was the San Miguel County Search and Rescue, whose news release points out that "the Northern San Juans have seen up to 20 inches of new snow in a 24-hour period.... Please remain vigilant while traveling in the backcountry."

The identity of the victim has not yet been made public pending next-of-kin notification.

The appeal of Sam's Trees for backcountry skiers is made clear in the following video.

The North American Avalanche Danger Scale used by the CAIC lists five levels of danger. At present, the mountains that include Sam's Trees are ranked in the third slot, labeled "Considerable." It's described like so:
Travel Advice

Dangerous avalanche conditions. Careful snowpack evaluation, cautious route-finding and conservative decision-making essential.

Likelihood of Avalanches

Natural avalanches possible; human triggered avalanches likely.

Avalanche size and distribution

Small avalanches in many areas; or large avalanches in specific areas; or very large avalanches in isolated areas.
Last March, during a period of even higher avalanche danger, we reached out to Scott Toepfer, a veteran mountain weather and avalanche forecaster with the CAIC. Below, read ten safety tips for those who venture into the snowy Colorado outdoors at this time of year.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts