When the snow starts piling up, the temptation to get into the backcountry is powerful. The deep untouched powder is just calling to be skied, snowboarded or snowshoed in. For outdoor enthusiasts there is nothing more beautiful and calming than an untouched winter mountain landscape. Setting off on a mid-winter mission into avalanche terrain can be done safely and within your risk threshold if the proper care and preparations are taken.
To help make a safe decision about winter backcountry travel, there are Avalanche Information Centers all over the country whose job it is to provide daily avalanche advisories. These are an important tool to gauge your next adventure into the backcountry.
Understanding the Avalanche forecasting
The risk rating system consists of five different rankings: Low, Moderate, Consideration, High, and Extreme.
Low and Moderate Ratings are typically completely safe if a safe area of travel is selected and route finding within that zone avoids all terrain traps.
Considerable Rating can be dangerous, not good for skiers and snowboarders with limited experience or low risk tolerance.
High and Extreme Ratings days are best spent at the resort and not on slopes steep enough to ski or ride.
Avalanche forecasts are broken down into three zones: above treeline, near treeline and below treeline. Detailed forecasts will break those three zones down by their compass direction.
Generally windward slopes are safer than leeward slopes and south facing slopes tend to stabilize before north facing slopes. however, in the mountains there are no rules that are always 100% certain. For example, when a upslope storm rolls through Colorado, slopes that are traditionally the windward side of the mountain become the leeward side and vice versa.
In is important to note that within even the safest rating and terrain, danger can still lurk. Terrain traps can slide as a result of a human trigger and a very small point release can send a snow rider into thick trees or off a cliff.
Trust the Pros
To better understand the mountains you play in, use the tools made possible by the different Avalanche Information Forecasting Centers throughout the country.
The best info to have is firsthand knowledge by someone in your group. Knowing the snowpack conditions personally of the zone you want to journey into is the best practice to stay safe.
- Always practice basic snow safety
- Always carry Avy gear: Probe, beacon, and shovel.
- Always to do a beacon check with others in your group.
- Always turn cell phones off – cell signal will interfere with your beacon
- Always know the conditions and understand the risks
- Always move through high risk terrain one at a time with the rest of the party actively watching from a safe spot.
Winter travel in the mountains requires a different level of preparation and the gear must be high quality from the most reliable brands. Outdoors Geek offer highest quality rental winter camping packages and rental snowshoes. Stop by our Denver Store to gear up for your next winter journey into the mountains.