Colorado Avalance Information Center (CAIC) Warns Skiers About Backcountry Danger

Debris is pictured from an avalanche on Wednesday, March 27, 2024, in Silver Couloir on Buffalo Mountain near Silverthorne. After seeing a spike in reports of skiers and snowboarders getting caught in avalanches over the past week, Colorado Avalanche Information Center officials are warning that danger is expected to increase through the weekend as more snow falls in the mountains and blows around.
Colorado Avalanche Information Center/Courtesy photo

Back-to-back slides in the same couloir on Buffalo Mountain have officials issuing warnings as Colorado sees a spike in people getting snarled by avalanche debris. 

Nineteen people have been caught in 17 avalanches since Thursday, March 21, according to a Colorado Avalanche Information Center social media post. Three people were partially buried, and one person was fully buried. Of these reports, eight people were caught in avalanches on Wednesday, March 27, and Thursday, March 28. 

“Many of these have occurred in steep, consequential terrain,” Colorado Avalanche Information Center wrote in its post. “Thankfully, no one has been seriously injured or worse.”

series of snowstorms this week have contributed to the frequency of the slides, officials say, and more snow is forecast over the next couple of days. 

“There’s been a recent spike in people caught in avalanches. While we’ve had several spring-like days, it’s important to remember that our snowpack is far from that typical springtime stability,” Colorado Avalanche Information Center wrote in another post Friday. “With more snow and wind this weekend, the avalanche danger is even higher in many places than it was when all these incidents occurred this last week.”

The slides in Silver Couloir on Buffalo Mountain near Silverthorne accounted for two of the eight slides reported Wednesday and Thursday.

One skier slid roughly 40 feet before self arresting while their ski poles ended up hundreds of feet below them on Wednesday, March 27, according to a field report filed for the avalanche. No injuries were reported. 

The next day around 10 a.m., a skier was carried roughly 2,000 feet down the rocky chute before coming to rest on top of the debris pile after deploying an avalanche airbag. The Summit County Rescue Group dispatched a helicopter to shuttle a crew to the couloir since the skier suffered injuries, but high winds forced rescuers to arrive on foot before assessing and helping the injured skier out of the field.  

“The avalanche didn’t seem substantial in size, neither depth nor width,” Summit County Rescue Group spokesperson Ben Butler said in a statement. “Nevertheless, the vertical drop was significant enough to potentially cause serious injury or even death.”

Butler noted that the injured skier had a companion who immediately called 911 and started conducting a transceiver search while skiing down the avalanche path to find their buddy, who was found with mild to moderate injuries near the end of the avalanche debris. The party also activated a Garmin InReach satellite communication device, which provided accurate GPS coordinates to rescuers in an area that has spotty cellular coverage, Butler said.

An avalanche that carried a skier roughly 2,000 feet on Thursday, March 28, 2024, is pictured in Silver Couloir on Buffalo Mountain near Silverthorne.
Colorado Avalanche Information Center/Courtesy photo

The skier and rescue crews were out of the field by 3 p.m.

 The 10 Essentials
  1. Navigation — Map, compass and GPS system
  2. Signaling — Whistle, mirror, cell phone, surveyor tape
  3. Light source (two) — Headlamp, flashlight, extra batteries
  4. Nourishment — Water and high-energy food
  5. Shelter — Lightweight waterproof tarp, bivvy sack, parachute cord
  6. Fire building — Matches, fire starter, heat tabs, knife, saw
  7. Personal protection — Medications, first-aid kit, sunscreen, dark glasses, bug repellent
  8. Weather protection — Extra clothes, rain gear, hat, gloves, heavy duty plastic bag
  9. Winter add-ons — Beacon, probe, shovel
  10. Rules to always follow — Never go alone, tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to return,  stay on the trail, stay where you are when waiting for rescue, know how to use equipment

Source: SCRG.org

Butler emphasized that calling or notifying 911 immediately after witnessing an avalanche or serious situation is incredibly important since crews would rather start responding to a call for assistance and get called off of the mission than to wait and find out the situation is serious. 

Many of the incidents reported over Wednesday and Thursday involved wind-slab avalanches, and persistent slab avalanches are driving the danger at upper elevations, according to a Colorado Avalanche Information Center’s forecast discussion published Friday. 

“As snow starts accumulating tonight and the wind starts drifting snow around, get the latest information about the changing conditions at Colorado.gov/avalanche” the center wrote in a statement. 

Anyone headed out into the Colorado backcountry should carry an avalanche transceiver, probe and shovel as well as a buddy who is carrying the same gear and knows how to use it, according to previous information provided by the Summit County Rescue Group. Along with bringing the 10 essentials, anyone venturing out of a resort should know how to survive in the mountains in winter.

Red White & Blue Fire Protection District, Summit County Special Operations Technicians and Summit Fire and EMS all deployed resources to the avalanche on Thursday on Buffalo Mountain.

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