Backcountry Buzz in Leadville Today
Beacon Park Open for Training
The White River National Forest’s new beacon training park outside Minturn gives the public an easily accessible opportunity to practice using avalanche transceivers, a critical piece of safety equipment for winter backcountry recreation.
“Record numbers of people venturing into the backcountry, and the need for winter backcountry safety education is higher than ever,” said Eagle-Holy Cross District Ranger Leanne Veldhuis. “Avalanche transceivers are key to finding avalanche victims as soon as possible, but they are only effective if people know how to use them.”
The beacon training park is situated a short climb up the slope at the Mountain Meadow Trailhead on U.S. 24, which is about ¼ mile from the I-70 Minturn exit.
The park, which was developed in partnership with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, consists of eight buried transmitters that can be turned on and off from a small control panel. This allows for multiple search scenarios to familiarize people with using their avalanche transceivers and probing the snow for victims. It’s a self-operating system open all day to the public.
“Beacon parks have traditionally been located at ski areas, where general public access may be limited to pass holders,” Veldhuis said. “This accessible public location should help encourage more people to become proficient using avalanche transceivers, which can help save lives.”
While avalanche transceivers are important if someone becomes buried in an avalanche, avoiding avalanches in the first place is the best strategy. Before heading into the backcountry, check the avalanche forecast.
Avalanche Report: So Far, So Good
Backcountry. It seems to be the buzz word of the winter season for Colorado.
But as the latest round of storms roll through the state, being #AvySaavy is more important than ever. It’s time to check in with the folks at the Colorado Avalanche Information Center and see how the backcountry conditions are doing in and around Leadville Today.
Forecast for December 14, 2020
Issued by: Bo Torrey, CAIC
Snow and wind continues today. The new snow is falling on an extremely weak, faceted, snowpack. Over the last few days, this fresh snow has formed a soft slab in areas sheltered from the wind and a stiffer slab where winds have redistributed snow. Backcountry travelers throughout the Central Mountains reported avalanches breaking at the new slab/old snow interface. Several of these avalanches broke wide, ran several hundred feet, and were large enough to bury a person. Today, expect this avalanche activity to continue as new snow accumulates and west winds redistribute snow onto easterly slopes.
Areas in the Grand Mesa and Sawatch zones received less snow, so conditions are not quite as dangerous. Most slopes in those zones lack the slab, which is a critical component for avalanche activity. If you travel at higher elevations today, use caution around open areas where the winds may have drifted snow into thicker slabs. You can identify these areas by their pillow or lens-like appearance. They feel “drummy” or cracks shoot out around you as you travel near the slope. Avoid these slopes until the snowpack has time to adjust to these new loads.
Staying safe from avalanches is pretty straightforward right now. Avoid steep slopes where you find more than about 10 inches of new or wind drifted snow. You can find safer riding options in lower elevation wind-sheltered areas.
We are going to have to deal with this Persistent Slab avalanche problem for the foreseeable future.
Over the weekend, the avalanche danger increased. New snow and winds continued to build slabs on a weak snowpack. You can trigger dangerous avalanches on north and east-facing slopes where you find more than about 8 inches of new or wind drifted snow. Open, wind prone slopes are where you are most likely to trigger an avalanche. Look for and avoid steep slopes that look rounded and smoothed by the wind.
The most dangerous places are around Monarch Pass and Cottonwood Pass. This is where there is the most snow and thickest slabs. Please remember to recreate responsibly, including following state and local public health orders and social distancing recommendations.
Sensitive Slabs Near Monarch Pass
CDOT Warns: Watch Where You Park!
Avalanches will not be the only thing that backcountry adventurers could encounter this winter season. In fact, if you make it back alive, it’s a ticket or a tow that could meet you at the end of the trail. And this year, it sounds serious as trailheads see more traffic spilling out on to already busy highways.
It’s a straight-up WATCH WHERE YOU PARK! Message from the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) asking vehicle owners take care when parking before recreating outdoors. Poorly parked vehicles prevent CDOT maintenance workers from safely clearing roads of snow and ice, and present safety hazards for motorists or commercial traffic on nearby roadways.
Anyone leaving a vehicle unattended on the side of the road runs the risk of breaking the law, being fined and having their vehicle towed away by law enforcement. Vehicle owners are urged to take heed of “no parking” signs. Parking areas need to be kept open with no vehicles or trailers so that plows and heavy equipment can be turned around safely by maintenance personnel. When searching for areas to park vehicles or trailers, the public is reminded to do so safely and lawfully.
Backcountry users should park only in clearly marked, designated parking areas. While some areas along the highway may appear to provide ample room to park, CDOT warns vehicle owners that they run the risk of being trapped with large snow piles pushed by plows. Vehicles left on the side of the road also make plowing operations difficult for road maintenance crews.
New Avy Control Systems in Place
While its true that CDOT is asking for more responsibility from highway users they too are doing their part to make the high country a safer place to move about. Earlier this summer, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) installed two new avalanche control systems in preparation for the 2020 – 2021 winter season. The new technology and remotely controlled systems will ensure safer avalanche mitigation missions for CDOT maintenance personnel and more efficient, reliable, and safer travel conditions for motorists.
The Avalanche Guard system was installed by contractor Outdoor Engineers above US Highway 6 to help control avalanches from the Professor and Widow slide paths. The paths are located across US 6 from the Arapahoe Basin ski area. The new system is safer and reduces road closures that affect heavy ski traffic in the area. Fewer technicians are required to conduct mitigation, allowing more CDOT employees to focus on plowing and conducting other essential activities in the Summit County area. The new Avalanche Guard equipment will not affect the existing Gazex avalanche control system on US 6 Loveland Pass, which is located further north.
LIZARD HEAD PASS
Meanwhile in southwest Colorado, CDOT recently completed the installation of remotely controlled avalanche mitigation equipment above CO Highway 145 on the south side of Lizard Head Pass. Crews installed five towers on the mountain and ridgeline above the highway, about 1 mile north of Rico and 20 miles south of Telluride. The towers will be used for the controlled triggering of avalanches at known snow slide paths in this area. CDOT’s Avalanche Mitigation Program oversaw the installation of the units, performed by Wyssen Avalanche Control of Switzerland.
CO 145, via Lizard Head Pass, is the alternate route for travelers when the US 550 mountain corridor is closed for emergencies. The new avalanche mitigation system will help keep CO 145 open more readily, offering a higher, more dependable level of service for motorists, particularly when avalanche conditions are occurring in the San Juan Mountains during significant winter storm cycles.
CDOT currently operates more than 30 remote systems across the state at several locations on high mountain highways and the I-70 mountain corridor.
CDOT has approximately 3,000 employees located throughout Colorado, and manages more than 23,000 lane miles of highway and 3,429 bridges. CDOT also manages grant partnerships with a range of other agencies, including metropolitan planning organizations, local governments and airports. It also administers Bustang, the state-owned and operated inter-regional express service. Gov. Jared Polis has charged CDOT to further build on the state’s multimodal mobility options.
The Historic 2019 Avalanche Season
In case you missed it, Dr. Ethan Greene, Director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center presents information about the historic 2019 avalanche season in Colorado and Lake County at the May 22, 2019 meeting of the Lake County Office of Emergency Management. Filmed by Leadville Today.
About the CAIC
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) is a program within the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, Executive Director’s Office. The program is a partnership between the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Department of Transportation (CDOT), and the Friends of the CAIC (FoCAIC) a 501c3 group. The mission of the CAIC is to provide avalanche information, education and promote research for the protection of life, property and the enhancement of the state’s economy.
The History of CAIC
Since 1950 avalanches have killed more people in Colorado than any other natural hazard, and in the United States, Colorado accounts for one-third of all avalanche deaths. The Colorado Avalanche Warning Center began issuing public avalanche forecasts in 1973 as part of a research program in the USDA-Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station. The program moved out of the federal government and into the Colorado state government, becoming part of the Department of Natural Resources in 1983. The CAIC joined the Colorado Department of Transportation’s highway safety program in 1993. The Friends of the CAIC (a 501c3 group) formed in 2007 to promote avalanche safety in Colorado and support the recreation program of the CAIC.
Funding for CAIC: How To Donate
About half of the CAIC’s funding comes from an intergovernmental agreement with CDOT to provide training and forecasting for highway maintenance operations. As part of the Department of Natural Resources, close to 40% of the Center’s funding come from the Severance Tax Fund. The rest of the funding to run the program comes from the United States Forest Service, local governments, the Friends of the CAIC, and from donations from people like you. CLICK HERE to Donate.
Cloud City Curling Season
The Cloud City Curling Club should begin its 2020-21 season this Wednesday, Dec. 16 if everything goes according to plan, said the organizers who were busy getting the ice set up on Sunday. This year sees a record number of teams as 13 challengers will take their stones to the Huck Finn Ice Rink’s curling court to see who’s the best on ice in America’s highest city. Due to COVID restrictions, masks must be worn at all times, social distancing will be enforced and there will be no team subs this season. Also, sadly no congregating and cheering on your favorite teams! But LT will share updates and photos from the games as they come in. Until check out the Curling Story from the LT archives about how the club got started.