GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. — Avalanches are killers. And when an avalanche occurs, even the most experienced mountain athletes are lucky to survive.

“They cause trauma, they can throw you into rock, ice, trees, people hit trees all the time. That can be catastrophic. Also they can bury you,” explains Alex Gavic, a professional Splitboard Mountaineer. He himself has had a close call with an avalanche, while skiing near Salt Lake City, Utah.

This season in Colorado, four people died in an avalanche in December alone.

“In the case of at least three of those individuals, those people were highly experienced,” says Dani Reyes-Acosta, also a professional Splitboard Mountaineer who rides for Outdoor Research, Weston Backcountry, and Protect Our Winters.

Currently most of Colorado is in considerable danger of an avalanche. It’s level three out of five on the danger scale. That’s according to the Colorado avalanche information center.
Many factors affect the likelihood of an avalanche including temperature, slope steepness, and snow pack conditions. That’s why experts say people need to be careful and get educated before heading out to the backcountry.

Ski instructor Al Mandell with the Colorado Mountain School says one of the best ways to keep yourself safe from an avalanche, is to stay on slopes 30 degree of less, to check the avalanche forecast before going out, and if you see red flags, to turn back. But often, the hunger to complete an objective can drive people to make bad decisions.

“Sometimes that terrain doesn’t seem as enticing because it might be not as steep or not as long or it’s not as high mountain,” says Mandell, in reference to safer terrain. “It doesn’t achieve a goal and skiers push on that, and that’s where they get into trouble.”

Reyes-Acosta echoes similar sentiments.

“The objective driven mentality is what drives a lot of us to make decisions that are not good for ourselves and others,” she says. That’s why she reiterates that getting outdoors isn’t just to push the limits. Sometimes it’s just to enjoy quality time with friends.

And Gavic agrees.

“None of the power is worth it if you don’t return home, so that’s the goal in the mountains is to return home safely,” he says.

If you’re interested in avalanche education visit the Colorado Mountain School Website.

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