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Search & Rescue Volunteers Prep For Avalanche Season

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(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

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LEADVILLE, Colo. (CBS4) – The ski season is under way in the high country and with it comes a warning for skiers to be careful, especially in the backcountry.

Last winter seven people died in avalanches in Colorado. Search and rescue teams are prepping for a season that might not be as snowy as last year.

Inside a Leadville auditorium a few hundred mostly ski patrollers and search and rescue volunteers gathered for the 10th Colorado Snow and Avalanche Workshop. It’s an opportunity for the professionals to get together and discuss the true dangers.

“Since 1950 we used to say that one in three avalanche deaths were right here in our backyard in Colorado. Now we’re down to about one in five,” said Dale Atkins, American Avalanche Association President.

Atkins said he’s studied the 750 documented deaths from avalanches since 1859. And even in the modern era, on average, Colorado has about six avalanche deaths every year.

“Any time you put people in the mountains there are going to be avalanche accidents. I don’t think we can get the number fewer than six people a winter,” he said.

Many of the attendees make their living preventing avalanches. So naturally the first question they have for the winter ahead is how much snow they’ll have to deal with. Especially since much of the state saw record making snow last year.

“Now that we have a returning La Nina, typically we end up with normal snowfall in the mountains of Colorado, except the Front Range, best chances it will be below normal,” Joe Ramey with the National Weather Service said.

Ramey said history shows the second consecutive La Nina doesn’t produce as much snow as the previous year. And with a series of La Nina’s now in place, it may not go away soon.

“If we get it one year and it remains into the next year, quite often it goes into a third year,” Ramey said.

Experts say the avalanche dangers in the mountains will always be present, but with a downward tick in snow expected, many skiers may stick to resorts and not the backcountry.

“Especially this year when the forecast isn’t as optimistic, don’t take those powder days for granted. Get out there and take advantage,” Atkins said.

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