Irene Shonle. Director, CSU Extension in Gilpin County. Avalanches kill between 25 and 50 people per year in the US, and far more are caught in avalanches. Not surprisingly, Colorado is the state with the highest number of deaths per year – 33% of fatalities nationwide occur in Colorado. Colorado has an average of 2300 reported avalanches each year, and estimates are that probably 10 times that many actually occur. So, it behooves us all to learn a little more about this deadly force.

Why do so many people die in Colorado’s backcountry? For one thing, we have a lot of outdoor enthusiasts. More people than ever are participating in backcountry (“out of bounds”) skiing, climbing, and snowmobiling. According to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, these are the three activities most likely to end up in an avalanche fatality. Hunting and hiking are much farther down on the list.

Other reasons include lack of preparation and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Here are some tips to keep you safer from avalanches:

  • Check the avalanche conditions at the Colorado Avalanche Information Center ( before venturing into the backcountry.
  • Pay attention to how steep the slope is – avalanches generally occur on slopes between 30 and 45 degrees, but they can run onto less steep areas.
  • Recent avalanche activity in the same area is an indicator of snow instability and a sign that more avalanches may occur.
  • Carry an avalanche beacon, shovel, and probe.  Backpacks with airbags are becoming popular.

Obviously, this just scratches the surface.  To learn more, come hear avalanche expert Dr. John Snook at our Cabin Fever Festival on February 21 at the Gilpin Community Center. He’ll be speaking from 1-3 p.m. and will not only provide more information on what you need to know about protecting yourself from avalanches, he will demonstrate some of the latest equipment – beacons, probe poles, slope meters, airbags and shovels – including an actual deployment of an airbag.

Dr. Snook spent fourteen years working at NOAA in Boulder as a research meteorologist. He is an avid backcountry skier and has been an avalanche forecaster at the Colorado Avalanche Information Center since 2006.

This is a not-to-be-missed event for skiers, snowmobilers, snowshoers, climbers, first responders, and anyone who gets outside in the winter! It is part of our Cabin Fever Festival (February 21, 1-4 p.m. at the Gilpin Community Center), where we will also be featuring a cartooning class by our very own Cabin Fever cartoonist himself, George Blevins; Winter Bird Identification and Feeding; Animal Tracks in the Snow (taught by Golden Gate Canyon State Park Ranger Dominique Marks); snowshoeing (weather permitting); quilting; and a kids’ games and crafts track with a Hawaiian theme running the whole time.

So bring everyone you know and come out for this FREE event – how better to beat the winter blues?

The CSU Gilpin County Extension Office is located at the Exhibit Barn, 230 Norton Drive, Black Hawk, CO 80422, 303-582-9106,

Colorado State University Extension provides unbiased, research-based information about, horticulture, natural resources, and 4-H youth development. Colorado State University Extension is dedicated to serving all people on an equal and nondiscriminatory basis.

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