Our View: Too much of a good thing?
February 25, 2012
The current buzz about Steamboat Springs is that we are the place to go for snow. That's about as good as it gets for a ski town, but it also increases the likelihood that more skiers, snowboarders and snowmobilers will head off in search of deep powder in a backcountry characterized by a very dangerous, unstable snowpack.
The avalanche danger throughout much of Colorado's high country, including the Steamboat zone, is significant. A mild and relatively dry start to winter created unstable layers of snow prone to avalanches. The recent abundance of snow here — 50 inches in a four-day period, according to measuring stakes at Steamboat Ski Area — followed by strong winds and above-average temperatures further compounded the existing weak snowpack.
Although an avalanche warning for the Steamboat area expired late last week, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center continues to rate the danger as "considerable" and warns that "dangerous avalanche conditions exist. Human-triggered slides are likely on all steep slopes." Because of the poor snow foundation throughout the local high country, it's expected that avalanche danger will remain significant for the remainder of winter.
We've already experienced one avalanche fatality this winter — 24-year-old Fort Collins man Tyler Lundstedt died Jan. 21 in an avalanche in the Buff Pass area — and we don't want to suffer another.
There are some myths that exist about the backcountry terrain surrounding Steamboat, particularly that many of the slopes aren't steep enough to be susceptible to avalanches. That's simply not the case. From Fish Creek Canyon to Buffalo Pass and even Walton Peak, the danger exists throughout the region, especially this year.
Quite frankly, it's become irresponsible to head into the backcountry without the tools and knowledge to keep you and your companions out of harm's way. It's also irresponsible to not consider the risk you put yourself and others in, including the volunteer rescuers who might have to come to your aid.
We recognize that being adventurous is part of the Steamboat mountain lifestyle. Being reckless isn't. Before you head off into potentially deadly terrain, use resources like the Avalanche Information Center to get a detailed daily update about the avalanche danger in the Steamboat zone. Purchase or rent an avalanche beacon and probe, and know how to use them. That means practicing with experienced users and taking an avalanche safety course. It might not save your life, but it just might open your eyes to the very real consequences of our sometimes insatiable appetite for adventure.