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Tuesday, March 19, 2002

Risk = Probability * Consequence

I haven't gotten too adventurous yet - yesterday afternoon I headed out to Rocky Mountain National Park and drove around in the snow. The clouds were pretty low and it was snowing heavily enough that picture-taking wasn't very good, but I did drive through a herd of about 150 elk, so my trip did have a few highlights.

I've been trying to decide what to do with my time today and tomorrow. Option one (the lower-risk option) is to rent some snowshoes and make a few more day trips to RMNP. Option two (the higher-risk option) is to attempt to climb Mt. Evans. Evans is supposed to be a "novice" winter fourteener, which is good because I'm certainly a novice at winter climbing. I have all the gear, I know what the altitude looks like, and for Evans, I've even seen the route. But I'm just not convinced that it's something I should do. If I needed to cast any more doubt on the situation, check out the latest avalanche warnings from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center:

"ZCZC DENSABCO
TTAA00 KDEN DDHHMM
COZ004-009-010-012-013—18-019-033-034-060-061-161800-

SPECIAL AVALANCHE ADVISORY
COLORADO AVALANCHE INFORMATION CENTER
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE DENVER/BOULDER CO
315 PM MST FRI MAR 15 2002

...BACKCOUNTRY SNOWPACK IN COLORADO IS EXTRAORDINARILY WEAK AND AVALANCHE PRONE...

TWO FATAL AVALANCHES ON THURSDAY IN THE BACKCOUNTRY NEAR ASPEN TESTIFY TO THE SERIOUSNESS OF THE UNSTABLE AND AVALANCHE PRONE SNOWPACK IN THE COLORADO MOUNTAINS AT THIS TIME. THIS IS A RESULT OF MANY MONTHS OF LIGHT SNOWFALL AND SHALLOW SNOW DEPTHS ... CREATING A SNOWPACK INCAPABLE OF SUPPORTING MUCH WEIGHT ... FOLLOWED BY STRONG SNOWFALL AND WINDS IN THE MONTH OF MARCH.

THE COLORADO AVALANCHE INFORMATION CENTER HAS AVALANCHE OBSERVERS IN ALL MOUNTAIN AREAS OF COLORADO. MANY OF THESE HAVE 20-30 YEARS OF EXPERIENCE ... AND NONE HAS SEEN A SNOWPACK THAT IS SO WEAK SO LATE IN THE SEASON. AND IT EXISTS IN EVERY MOUNTAIN RANGE OF COLORADO EXTENDING FROM STEAMBOAT TO TELLURIDE.

THIS IS NOT A TYPICAL MARCH SITUATION. USUALLY BY MARCH THE SNOWPACK HAS BEGUN TO WARM AND SETTLE AND STRENGTHEN. BUT NOT THIS YEAR. THIS SNOWPACK IS NOT PRODUCING LARGE NUMBERS OF NATURAL RELEASING AVALANCHES. BUT IT IS EASILY SUSCEPTIBLE TO A TRIGGER AND IT WILL BREAK TO THE GROUND. LASTLY IT WILL NOT STABILIZE ANYTIME SOON. THAT MEANS THE BACKCOUNTRY COULD BE UNSTABLE FOR WEEKS TO COME.

TRIGGERED AVALANCHES CAN BE EXPECTED ON SLOPES OF 35 DEGREES AND STEEPER AND AVALANCHES CAN BE TRIGGERED ON SHALLOW SLOPES WITH STEEPER SLOPES LYING ABOVE. EXTRA CAUTION IS MANDATORY FOR ALL BACKCOUNTRY USERS.

THIS STATEMENT IS OF PARTICULAR INTEREST TO PERSONS USING THE BACK COUNTRY OUTSIDE DEVELOPED SKI AREA BOUNDARIES. WHEN NECESSARY SKI AREAS USE AVALANCHE CONTROL METHODS WITHIN THEIR BOUNDARIES.

FOR ADDITIONAL AVALANCHE INFORMATION...IN FORT COLLINS CALL...970-482-0457 ...IN COLORADO SPRINGS...719-520-0020...IN SUMMIT COUNTY ...970-668-0600...IN DURANGO...970-247-8187...IN DENVER...303-275-5360 OR VISIT OUR WEB PAGE AT www.geosurvey.state.co.us/avalanche.

WILLIAMS
COLORADO AVALANCHE INFORMATION CENTER
2001-02
"

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