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Early Avalanche Season in Colorado: Ten Tips to Stay Safe

This photo shows the path of an October 15 avalanche south of South Arapahoe Peaks in the Indian Peaks area. A hiker suffered cuts, bruises and a fractured pelvis after being carried about 150 feet.
This photo shows the path of an October 15 avalanche south of South Arapahoe Peaks in the Indian Peaks area. A hiker suffered cuts, bruises and a fractured pelvis after being carried about 150 feet. Colorado Avalanche Information Center
Most lovers of the outdoors in Colorado aren't thinking about avalanches yet, even though mountain snowfall has been substantial in recent days and several ski areas have opened earlier than usual. But slides are already a danger, as one person recently discovered.

On October 15, according to an account shared by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC), a hiker climbed up Arapaho Pass and Arapaho Glacier Trails, north of Nederland, to an elevation of about 11,500 feet before the depth of the snow persuaded him to descend. Shortly thereafter, he ventured onto what he thought was hard-packed snow and wound up stepping right through it, or "post-holing," in winter-hiking parlance.

Suddenly, an avalanche fractured above him and to the east, sweeping him over cliffs ten to fifteen feet high. He estimates that he was carried about 150 vertical feet by the slide, suffering cuts, bruises and a fractured pelvis in the process.

In his words, "Avy season hit me by surprise."

Brian Lazar, the center's deputy director, was considerably less confounded by this event. "Any time you've got snow obscuring the ground cover on slopes steeper than 30 degrees, you need to start thinking about avalanches," he says. "It can happen as early as September, and by October, it's common for us to see the avalanche activity ramp up with early-season snowfall — and this year has been no exception."

True enough: On November 2, a skier was partially buried by an avalanche on Hoosier pass, just above the Northstar neighborhood. Fortunately, he wasn't seriously injured.

Below, Lazar shares ten observations and tips about early-season avalanches, with the goal of preventing more folks enjoying the majesty of Colorado at this time of year from being caught off-guard.

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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.
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