By Jamie Leary

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo (CBS4) – With the snowpack finally starting to build, many are heading into the backcountry to ride and while there isn’t a lot of snow, the avalanche activity is increasing.

(credit: CBS)

“We were just trying to get some sort of reaction from the slope, it was obvious that it was going to happen,” said Joe Triscari.

Wednesday, Triscari was riding with a friend at Berthoud Pass and decided to check out a northeast facing slope above tree line. He noticed it was wind loaded, and after checking to make sure there was no one below, decided to cut across the top to test the stability.

“Kind of just poked around a little bit deeper, and we poked the bear and luckily we both are alright,” he said.

They caught the result on camera, it was a larger slide than both riders expected but gave them some good insight on the snowpack.

“The snowpack is definitely really touchy in only certain areas but it’s really hard to predict,” he said. “That’s just what happens you have all these elements. You have sunshine, you have wind, temperature fluxes…. The snowpack is always changing and all you can really do is be digging and finding out what’s happening at that moment in time,” he said.


Triscari has more than 20 years of experience riding in the backcountry and has many tools he uses before he rides to make plans and while he rides to stay safe.

One of those tools is the forecast from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC), used in combination with his experience, is the reason Triscari approached his line with caution on Wednesday.

“The avalanche you see in the video is really what’s been described in the forecasts recently.” Said Ethan Greene, Director of the CAIC. “Probably had a little bit of wind loading so it’s really good that those guys read the forecast and were kind of keyed into what conditions were out there.”

The slide wasn’t major but was one of the larger ones of the season so far and was one of three triggered by skiers in Summit County over a two-day period.

“When you don’t have a lot of snow, avalanches are often fairly small but those are still pretty dangerous because it can push you into a terrain trap or into a tree or a rock or some sort of obstacle and as we get more snow those avalanches will start to get larger,” said Greene.

For Trascari, it’s all about preparation, continued education and being able to turn around or cancel plans if things look bad.

“It’s a lot of work and it’s a big passion for a lot of people. People base their lives around it for a reason because they want to come home safe at night,” he said.

He also always carries a beacon, shovel, and a probe, and at the request of his wife, he now uses an airbag.

(credit: CBS)

While it’s a lot to take in for those just getting started, Triscari says, there are ways to still play it safe and still get out and learn a thing or two.

“Definitely not a time to be getting too burley too early or jumping into anything that is of risk so minimize your risk.” He said. “Stay on low angle terrain, stuff that’s under 28 degrees of a pitch.”

With an unusual season in-bounds at ski areas, more people are expected to get into the backcountry and while Trascari said Berthoud was crowded, many people were taking low angle laps near the parking lot, which was encouraging.

At this point, Greene hasn’t seen anything that would suggested inexperienced people have been getting into trouble. He said the people who have been reaching out to CAIC to file reports have been very enthusiastic and more importantly, uninjured. He hopes that trend continues.

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm and there are some great opportunities to recreate in the backcountry right now, of course with avalanches and some places with shallow snowpack, you definitely have to use some caution, careful trip planning, thinking about where you’re going and matching what you want to try to do to, with what the conditions are like today- that’s always really important,” said Greene.

To find out more about backcountry educational opportunities, click here.

Jamie Leary