Snow packed trails are what we live for in Breckenridge, Colorado. When the entire town is blanketed in a glistening white fresh layer of snow, locals and visitors alike grow anxious to get out and leave their prints in the powder. Like any managed ski resort, precautions are taken at Breckenridge to ensure the trails are safe for skiers and boarders. You can hear the loud booming of avalanche blasting, which causes potential avalanche sites to slide under controlled conditions, thus ensuring skiers and riders who stay in bounds are not exposed to areas that are likely to slide.
Still, any time you are in the back-country and out of bounds of the ski resort's property, avalanches can become a concern. While the weather and wind patterns can cause snow to collapse, the most common type of avalanches are caused by skiers themselves. So, while Breckenridge is certainly the place to come to let your adventuresome side have some fun on the trails, keep safety as your first priority and you'll be on your way to a fun day in a winter wonderland!
Tune in Early: Check the local information on weather and avalanche danger on the television, radio, by phone, or through the web. Chances are you can get most of the pertinent information you need regarding areas to avoid before you even set out. Obviously, trails in Breckenridge that are labeled with severe avalanche danger will be closed, but take extra precaution on those that are even of little risk. And remember, weather conditions can always change throughout the day, so be sure to keep your eyes and ears out for avalanche information as it becomes available.
Look for Signs: It's not uncommon for avalanches to occur in the same place twice. If you know that an area was affected by an avalanche, it's probably a good indication to avoid this spot. Additionally, avoid any areas underneath an avalanche. The condition of the snow is also an important factor. If the snow feels hollow, makes loud or creaking noises, or is thawing at an extreme rate (if you can squeeze water from a snowball), you're in a potentially dangerous area. Finally, avalanches are more common after a major snowfall. While more snow often makes for better skiing, it also makes for higher risks of avalanches. Pay attention to these signs, get information from employees and other skiers, and plan your day accordingly.
Steer Clear of Slopes Between 30 and 45 degrees: While this is the grade of steepness in which avalanches are most common, they can still occur on more gentle slopes or unstable areas. While skiers should be sure to steer clear of these steep slopes, other precautions should certainly be taken into consideration. Avalanches occur most often on east-facing slopes that are heavily loaded with snow from the wind. Also keep your eyes out for cornices, which are overhanging wave-like formations of snow that could potentially give way and cause snow to pile up.
Equip Yourself: If you plan on traveling out of bounds and in avalanche terrain, it's a good idea to carry an avalanche beacon. In the event that someone in your party would end up in a potentially dangerous situation, this device will allow others to set their beacons to locate the buried victim's direction and distance (older models will beep as a rescuer gets closer to the victim). Additionally, for those traveling in extreme conditions in the backcountry, a stout shovel is a good component to pack in the event of retrieving a buried victim in the critical moments just after an avalanche occurs.
If you're planning to hit the slopes in Breckenridge, avalanche danger certainly isn't your focus. Experienced crew members are consistently checking conditions of all slopes as they relate to wind, snow fall, and avalanche danger. Still, if you find yourself out of bounds of the resort's property lines and in the back-country or feel uneasy with your surroundings, look for signs, stay calm, and avoid potentially dangerous situations.
Chris Cook lives in beautiful Breckenridge, Colorado and loves sharing her expertise on mountain safety and fun with visitors.