Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Forest Service Warns that Spring Conditions can be Volatile

Spring in the Rockies brings with it a wide variety of weather conditions, and officials from the Medicine Bow and Routt National Forests (MBR) are reminding forest visitors to be prepared for all possible extremes.

Prompting this message is a recent string of lost or stranded recreationists, and fatal accidents. Just this past weekend there were multiple groups of snowmobilers that needed search and rescue assistance in north central Colorado, and the previous weekend there were both avalanche and snowmobile fatalities in the same area.

Remember that days beginning as sunny and warm can end up with blizzard conditions, resulting in navigation difficulties for even the most seasoned outdoor enthusiasts. Additionally, periods of warm weather can create a freeze-thaw cycle, and thus an icy base layer of snow. Snow accumulation on that icy layer and high winds can then make the snowpack unstable and put avalanche conditions at a dangerous level.

Current avalanche conditions across the MBR range from moderate to considerable, but can change daily. Deep persistent slabs do exist and are hard to trigger, but the consequences of releasing one could be deadly.

Forest visitors are urged to know the conditions and weather forecasts in the area you plan to visit.

Following are safety recommendations for National Forest visitors during the winter/spring:

* There is no avalanche control and forest users must know the snow conditions and their abilities.

* Conditions can change rapidly in the backcountry. Be prepared for extreme conditions, carry appropriate survival gear and be prepared for self-rescue.

* Remember these safety items: shovel, beacon, probe, and KNOWLEDGE.

* Don’t recreate alone.

* Know how to use your emergency gear. Items such as an avalanche beacon are not useful if they cannot be properly used.

* Much terrain throughout the Rocky Mountain region is subject to avalanches. When traveling or recreating in those areas, you are responsible for the safety of yourself and those around you.

* Get avalanche savvy and take a certified avalanche course.

* Pick up a map of the area you plan to visit. Recreation maps, such as the Wyoming State Trails Snowmobile maps, often show avalanche prone areas.

Although the majority of avalanche accidents occur in the backcountry, an avalanche can occur in areas thought to be safe. Ski areas provide a high level of avalanche control on their managed slopes within bounds. Skiers and riders are reminded to stay out of closed and roped off areas and use the buddy system.

Backcountry users should also be aware of potential risks. They should be skilled at recognizing potential avalanche areas and snowpack conditions, and should be able to act accordingly. It is recommended that backcountry users perform careful snowpack evaluations and stability tests prior to entering an avalanche-prone area. There are typically plenty of routes for safer backcountry travel in avalanche country. Be able to recognize and use them as needed.


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