Avalanche Forecaster: Making Good Choices… Or Getting Lucky?

Jan 28, 2014

The Aspen area has a high rate of avalanche accidents. And this winter there’s a new avalanche forecaster to help bring those down. Blase Reardon is with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, and gave a talk last night. That was at the Limelight Hotel, and coordinated by the group Powder for the People. 


Editor's note: below is a transcript of reporter Elise Thatcher's story.

Reporter: One of the key ways to avoid snow slides is to use the latest information about conditions in the backcountry.  That information is gathered on a state website by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.  The site has been upgraded this winter season. Blase Reardon is the center’s new forecaster for the Aspen area.

Reardon: “So part of the reason for using these icons is you’ll get a sense for what kind of dragon we’re dealing with. Is it a little salamander that you know, ankle biter that my friend called that you can manage with certain kinds of strategies?”

Reporter: Or, is it a day with the potential for large, powerful avalanches? The website’s new upgrade is designed for quickly seeing an overview of how dangerous snow conditions are, but with enough technical information for the people who want as much detail as possible. Aside from promoting the site’s new look, Reardon wants to talk about the big picture. He warns that people often don’t know when they’ve made good choices to avoid avalanches or merely just gotten lucky.

Reardon: “We become overconfident in our skills and our knowledge in the backcountry. I have never triggered an avalanche or been caught in an avalanche while I’m wearing my red skis. I should keep wearing my red skis because I will never trigger an avalanche in the backcountry.”

Reporter: Instead, Reardon has tips to figure out the best way to make good choices. One is debriefing with backcountry partners afterwards to see if skiers made turns in the right places. Reardon recounts an experience he had with a mentor. While out skiing on a high avalanche danger day, Reardon decided to get a few extra turns in a place that was more treacherous.

Reardon: “And as I did, I saw him look at me, and he just gave me a look that said ‘Wow, that’s dumb.’ Alright? And that’s all it took. That lesson has sunk in for decades.”

Reporter: So sometimes honest feedback about mistakes is essential, too. The website provides a range of weather and avalanche condition forecasts.  Knowing conditions in the area, backcountry skiers plan to visit is a crucial part of the most basic decision; whether or not to go to a certain terrain in the first place.  The website is http://avalanche.state.co.us/.