Don’t take a chance with the power of the avalanche
It was a beautiful day for a trip to the field, the kind of fall weather you come to expect living in our part of the world.Not having been to Marble for a long time, I was surprised at all the new homes on the south-facing sunny slope above town.”At least they’re safe from avalanches,” my mind spoke to me almost loud enough to be heard by my co-worker.Cindy and I were headed up the Yule marble quarry road to look at a private in-holding within the national forest being acquired by the Trust for Public Lands, TPL for short.My thoughts were on gathering firsthand information to write about the importance of land trusts such as TPL and our own Aspen Valley Land Trust.But as we rounded a corner and I took in the expansive view up Yule Creek, my mind returned full force to avalanches.Within one view spread were three major chutes. Each had bent-over trees lining their sides and piles of debris at the bottom of the creek where the snow slides ended. Large trees snapped like twigs and huge rocks jumbled together in the debris gave testimony to how powerful last winter’s avalanche season had been.A Forest Service trailhead was completely wiped out.The truckers hauling marble year-round from the quarry had been very lucky.The size of the largest slide left me awestruck. It had started on the peak opposite and across the creek from Whitehouse Mountain. It traveled almost a mile before ending much further down Yule Creek than I would have expected.Like a bobsled out of control on a sharp-cornered run, it had shot down the chute and come up and over the edge of the bowl shaped drainage that normally would have contained it.The evergreen trees on the fringe of the drainage cleared of vegetation from season after season of avalanches had been pushed over like a falling line of dominoes.The path of devastation was almost a quarter of a mile wide.After taking pictures, Cindy and I got back in the truck. She had been here in July when the snow was still piled high where the run had ended.Jumbled up rocks and trees sticking out of the dirty snow must have been an eerie sight in an already surreal scene.We speculated about what kind of winter lay ahead. Then I mentioned the first sad early avalanche season statistic: One dead. Male. 32 years old. Owned avalanche beacon. Did not use it.My purpose in writing about the deadly power inherent in Colorado’s snowy torrents is not to scare anyone. It’s my way of reminding you to be safe when playing in our winter wonderland.Before heading into the backcountry to enjoy our season of snow, first visit Colorado Mountain Club’s Web site at http://www.cmc. org/recreation/recreation_ safety_eightsteps.aspx. There you will find Colorado Avalanche Information Center director Knox Williams’ “Eight steps to reducing your avalanche risk.”It may save you from becoming another statistic.Writing from 25 years of experience in federal land management agencies, Bill Kight, of Glenwood Springs, shares his stories with readers every other week.
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