Winter Backcountry Safety

This year has brought an exponential increase in demand for recreation in our mountain community and with the winter season well underway, we feel it’s pertinent to get proper safety information out to the masses. Winter recreation, including but not limited to: hiking, snowshoeing, skiing, touring, snowmobiling or split boarding in Summit County, comes with the very real danger of avalanches. Colorado is historically one of the most avalanche prone regions in the world, due to our elevation, weather, snowpack, and topography. Every year, avalanches seriously injure and/or take the lives of those who are not prepared to recreate in avalanche terrain. The USDA Forest Service’s White River National Forest has made this handy checklist for you to review BEFORE you head into the backcountry.

Colorado is one of the most avalanche prone places in the world.

Review this checklist BEFORE heading into the backcountry, to make sure you are prepared.

Before Your Trip:

  • Check COTRIP.org for road closures and highway travel information.

  • Check the avalanche forecast (https://avalanche.state.co.us/) for the zone you are going to be traveling in.

  • Make a plan with terrain selection and route planning that fits the skill levels of your entire party.

  • Be prepared for changing weather/snow conditions.

  • Have a Plan B! Have a contingency plan in case Plan A fails.

  • Carpool to minimize congestion at trailheads.

  • If possible, avoid recreating on busy weekends, and choose more quiet times to explore busy areas.

  • Research and respect ski area uphill policies.

  • If you are new to the sport, hire a guide or find a mentor to teach you the skills.

At the Trailhead:

  • Check trailhead signage for any updated area information.

  • Be considerate of other users, and park to allow the maximum amount of vehicles to use the parking area.

  • Park legally- if the lot is full travel to your Plan B.

  • PACK IT IN – PACK IT OUT! Many trailheads do not have trash service so be responsible for taking your own waste home. This goes for your 4-legged friends too!

  • Please be prepared to pick up and pack out your pets poop.

  • BE KIND, SAY HI! You will encounter all types of recreationists, so please be respectful of all user groups.

Terrain Awareness:

  • Do not ski or ride above other groups, especially on steep terrain.

  • Look out for all users in avalanche terrain, not just your group.

  • Expose only one person at a time to potential avalanche terrain.

  • Be aware that your impacts on the snow can cause avalanches across the slope on other users. Spatial awareness is key!

Responsibility Code:

  • Carry and know how to use avalanche rescue gear.

  • Obey all posted signs and area designations detailed.

  • Always stay in control and maintain the ability to stop.

  • Stack your tracks; terrain conservation benefits all!

  • Communicate with other parties that are recreating in the same area.

  • Yield to up-hill traffic and snow cats.

  • Ride/hike single file on the right and pass cautiously on the left.

  • Use established pick-up and drop-off areas.

  • Do not stop where you obstruct roads and trails or are not visible to other users.

  • Stow sled tow ropes when not towing a skier/rider.

All information credited to the USDA Forest Service White River National Forest.

Have fun and enjoy all that your National Forest has to offer!

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