An increase in human-caused avalanches over the past week appears to have been caused by an increase in people seeking recreation in the field, combined with weather conditions that increased the risk of avalanches.
That's the conclusion of Ethan Greene, director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, who has reported 34 human-caused avalanches in Colorado since March 20.
"We are talking to store owners in mountain towns across the state who are seeing their inventory of touring equipment run out," Greene said. "And that's not, like, just one store, it's a lot of stores in a lot of different locations. There definitely seems to be more people interested in rural recreation due to some of the limitations that exist in ski areas."
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Greene's concerns were echoed by Steve Wilson, a public information officer for the Alpine Rescue Team, a group of volunteers conducting search and rescue operations in Jefferson, Clear Creek and Gilpin counties.
"There is a rebound in field activity because the country is closed," said Wilson. "That is also taking less experienced people into the interior of the country at a time when our emergency services are already heavily taxed. It is the perfect storm."
The CAIC does not have numbers to compare recent activity with what could be considered normal, because the frequency of avalanches increases and decreases depending on the weather and snow conditions.
"There is no 'normal'," Greene said. “We have groups of human-caused avalanches that only occur when the danger of avalanches increases, and then dissipate. What we have seen is undoubtedly a remarkable amount of human-caused activity in a short period of time. "
The most recent human-triggered avalanche occurred on Wednesday over the west portal of the Eisenhower-Johnson Tunnels in Summit County.
"There was a group of two backcountry hikers, one snowboarder, who were riding over the gate and unleashed an avalanche that ran and covered the driveway with avalanche debris about 20 feet deep and about 300 feet wide," he said. Greene.
There were no injuries in that incident, but on Tuesday, a snowboarder in the field near Telluride had to be evacuated by helicopter and taken to the hospital, according to the San Miguel Sheriff's Office. A post on his Facebook page read: "Sheriff Bill Masters wants to remind people of the dangers of the backcountry," especially in light of COVID-19 when our local resources are depleted and incidents like this stretch them even further. People need to use their damn heads. "
On Saturday, the Alpine Rescue Team responded to reports of a slide at Mount Trelease, which is adjacent to the Loveland Ski Area on the north side of Interstate 70. The Clear Creek County Sheriff and the Clear Creek Fire also responded. . Flight for Life also responded, Wilson said, offering an eye to heaven. Ultimately, they concluded that while the slide was likely human-caused, no one got caught on it.
"We are used to difficult avalanche conditions," said Wilson. "We are used to responding to avalanches, because that happens every year. But all of those things are magnified right now because less experienced people continue to go on the field.
"It is not that we are not going to respond, but we have to deal with it differently than we would at any other time," he said. "That is every link in the chain of emergency services, from rescuers to the ambulance and helicopter, to the hospital. And this is not the time when you want to be in the hospital."
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