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On Monday January 1, four well-known Eagle county residents were caught in an avalanche near Silverton. Three of the four men were killed. The Eagle County and the town of Eagle released a joint statement Wednesday afternoon identifying the three missing locals  as Seth Bossung, Andy Jessen and Adam Palmer.

The four men were part of a larger group of backcountry skiers that triggered a large avalanche between the towns of Silverton and Ophir in an area locally known as “The Nose”. The avalanche released on the northeast slope, near treeline at about 11,500 feet according to the Vail Daily.

As of February 1, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) so far this season a total of 10 skiers, snowboarders and snowmobilers have been caught in avalanches in Colorado. Eight of them were buried and four people have died.

This year, there has been an increase of those hoping to get into the great outdoors and the backcountry due to concerns surrounding COVID-19; not just experienced backcountry skiers, but newcomers without training in backcountry conditions. But with new snow and strong winds, those thinking of heading into the back-country may want to think twice.

In an update from the CAIC, those looking to head into the backcountry of the Sawatch range are at a considerable risk of triggering an avalanche. The update shows that areas above and near treeline are  considered as having dangerous avalanche conditions. Below treeline areas are considered a moderate risk but when venturing out, many recreators should consider their surroundings.

In many avalanche fatalities, the movement is started by skiers above them. For up-to-date and accurate information on avalanche risk in the state, click here.

While most people don’t encounter avalanches while not in the backcountry, there is always the potential to encounter them while driving in various parts of the mountains.  As a reminder, before heading out it is always a safe idea to check current road conditions and weather forecasts.

Local road areas under current warnings include:

  • Sawatch Range, including Monarch, Chalk Creek Canyon and Cottonwood Pass – through 7:00 a.m. Fri. Feb. 5 –  high danger above treeline, and considerable below treeline including U.S. 50, CR 162, and CR 306.
  • Vail and Summit Counties — including U.S. 24, U.S. 93 and the I-70 corridor – high risk danger above treeline, and considerable risk below treeline– through 7:00 a.m. Fri. Feb. 5.

If an avalanche does occur, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) will close highways at the location of the avalanche path to conduct avalanche control. CDOT crews bring down unstable snow from the mountainside and clear all snow and debris off roadways. CDOT will alert drivers via electric road signs of avalanche control activity as well as via their website or by calling 511.

CDOT avalanche work on Monarch Pass. Photo courtesy of CDOT.

CDOT tracks how often avalanche work is completed throughout the season which includes any task related to avalanche predation, mitigation or removal of snow. From October 2018 to April 2019, crews conducted avalanche work 51 times along I-70 and other roadways with March being the busiest month.

CDOT data shows that during the 2018-2019 winter season:

  • Motorists experienced 1,707 hours of road closures due to avalanche control, resulting in a total of 44,378 feet of snow covering the centerline of the roadway.
  • Crews conducted 1,615 explosions for avalanche hazard mitigation.
  • CDOT triggered 877 avalanches with explosives.
  • Crews handled 72 natural avalanche occurrences.