November 16, 2016

Winter Is Here, But Be Careful


The Crested Butte area is about to get its first taste of real winter. Social media will go ballistic. Your most hard-core friends will post pictures of their first faceshots of the season. It’s an exciting time. However, if you do go out, don’t lose your head.

Cover: An early season skier triggered slide on Mt. Baldy last season. Photo: CBAC

All that separates you from our scree-covered ground is a handful of inches of the fluffy stuff. Hopefully it’s that heavy base-building snow. Either way, it isn’t much. A fall this time of year can really mess you up. Last year, a triumphant first day of winter on Purple Mountain turned bad quick when a snowsnake caught my friends and he fell, breaking his fibula. That was not a fun evacuation, and it ended his season. Two years ago, a Western student had a promising ski career cut short when he tumbled forward after a small jump in Splains Gulch, sustaining a spinal cord injury at the C5 level that left him paralyzed from the nipple line down. Three years ago at Wolf Creek, another friend jumped off a small cliff and hit a small chopped stump, left behind from glading, that impaled his butt down to the pelvis. More hospital time. Remember, it is a long season. Enjoy it, but tread lightly.

Kristian Meinzer shows off a nasty wound sustained from an early season crash into some hidden rocks.

Kristian Meinzer shows off a nasty wound sustained from an early season crash into some hidden rocks.

Another overlooked hazard in early season skiing is avalanche danger. Don’t forget the adage, “If it’s enough to ride, it’s enough to slide.” We are fortunate to have, for the most part, avoided early season snow that results in widespread faceting. However, early season hotspots like Baldy and Purple Ridge do have a base that has been faceting for weeks now (see video from CBAC).

“Unfortunately, the slopes that are holding an existing snowpack and are most luring to ski or ride for the sake of your ski bases are also the most suspect for avalanche concerns if we get enough snow and wind to form slabs out of these next few storms. Even though you were mountain biking or sunbathing yesterday, if you are going into the mountains to chase fresh snow, you need to have your avalanche brain turned on. Carry all the essential avalanche gear (beacon, shovel, and probe), travel with a partner, and pay attention to the new snow and what’s underneath it. Getting caught in a slide now, even a small one, can end your season pretty quickly if you get dragged through rocks and talus. ” –Zach Guy.

This season has already experienced one avalanche fatality in North America. Let’s keep it that way. Have a great and safe season everyone. By the way, the Crested Butte Avalanche Center’s annual Avalanche Awareness Night is Friday, December 2nd. Come out and support this amazing and unique community resource!

About the Author

1. Ed Dujardin
After moving out west for college, Ed took summer school so he could spend winters in Crested Butte. These days, he coaches the Western State Colorado University Freeride Team, and spends as much time as he can fishing the incredible rivers of the area.