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Snow moves into Eagle River Valley, increasing snowpack, avalanche danger

February 12, 2021, 9:47 am

Vail and Beaver Creek were already receiving fresh snow Friday morning as a series of storms takes aim at the Eagle River Valley over the next several days.

That’s great news for snow riders, but state officials warn it will increase the avalanche danger for backcountry skiers and snowboarders in what has already been a tragically deadly season. First, the good news:

“We will see two significant storms over three days,” meteorologist Joel Gratz reported Friday on Opensnow.com. “On Friday and Friday night, expect snow for most of the day with accumulations between 4-10+ inches.

“On Saturday, we’ll see a short break in the snow midday,” Gratz added. “From Saturday afternoon to Sunday afternoon, an additional 4-24+ inches will accumulate. For next week, two more storms will keep the powder party going.”

Now the bad news. Here’s a press release on avalanche danger issued by the state on Thursday:

Colorado Urges Extra Caution in Backcountry: State Experiencing Once-in-a-Decade Dangerous Avalanche Conditions

Snowstorms in the Rocky Mountains and avalanches happen all the time, however, this season’s exceptionally weak snowpack is proving to be exceptionally dangerous – which poses deadly consequences if people are in the wrong place at the wrong time.

For anyone venturing into Colorado’s backcountry this year, Governor Polis, Colorado Avalanche Information Center and others strongly advise elevated safety precautions, as an unstable snowpack is causing an increase in avalanche activity and more dangerous avalanches than we see in a typical year. So far, eight Coloradans have lost their lives in avalanches this season. Nationally, between the weeks for January 30 and February 7, there have been 15 confirmed fatalities from avalanches, the most avalanche-related fatalities in a seven-day period since 1910. 

“Due to our dry fall and cold temperatures, the backcountry is extremely dangerous right now, as evidenced by record deadly avalanches that have tragically taken eight Coloradans this year. Be cautious and careful. As we head into the Presidents Day weekend with Coloradans heading to our mountains, everyone must be prepared to take extra precautions and check the avalanche forecast, particularly if your plans include traveling into Colorado’s backcountry,” said Governor Jared Polis. 

“The way our snowpack developed this year makes it especially easy for people to trigger dangerous avalanches,” said Ethan Greene, Director, Colorado Avalanche Information Center. “This means we all need to take avalanche safety seriously. The danger will rise with each snowstorm, so check the avalanche forecast and make sure your plan for the day fits the current avalanche conditions.”

Below are essential backcountry safety principles to keep in mind. 

  • Take a backcountry safety course – Avoid activities beyond your skill level. Accidents stemming from high-risk types of activities may require extensive resources. Being responsible outdoors can help prevent overloading first responders, search and rescue and medical professionals. 
  • Bring the Proper Safety Equipment – Winter sports require certain safety gear like an avalanche rescue transceiver, probe, shovel and extra warm layers. 
  • Adjust your plan for the day based on the avalanche conditions – Have a backup plan if the route you planned for is closed, crowded or has unsafe conditions. Discover local, state, and federal outdoor opportunities on the Colorado Trail Explorer (COTREX) app. 

“As a backcountry skier, who enjoys ski mountaineering and early morning skinning up my favorite peaks, I am taking extra precautions during this challenging avalanche season,” said Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources. “I understand the pull of fresh tracks and looking down on a pillow of fresh powder on a favorite glade. But this year with our unique snow conditions, that same slope may be susceptible to a dangerous and wide avalanche. For those experienced in backcountry recreation, your normal routes may not be good routes this year and your previous avalanche precautions may not keep you out of a dangerous slide. Until conditions improve, I plan on seeking out lower slope routes, area skiing and enjoying nordic skiing with my family.”  

Due to dangerous avalanche conditions this year and with another three months left in our avalanche season, Colorado agencies urge limiting and taking extra precautions for backcountry travel as conditions warrant. Fortunately, Colorado provides a variety of other outdoor activities that can be enjoyed when seeking the mental and physical benefits of spending time outside this winter. 

“We want our outdoor community to be able to enjoy everything a Colorado winter has to offer and live life outside, but we also want you to return home safely after your outdoor adventure,” said CPW Director Dan Prenzlow. “It doesn’t matter what outdoor activity you enjoy this winter, whether you ski, snowshoe, ice fish, hike, bike or go snowmobiling, it’s important to respect and know trail and area closures before you go and adjust your activity to make sure you have a safe and fun outdoor experience.”

For more information on backcountry winter safety, visit: 


To learn more about winter recreation in Colorado, visit cpw.state.co.us/

For Avalanche forecasts and warnings, visit: avalanche.state.co.us/

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