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Avalanche Danger at a High for the first time this season

As of Monday Jan. 13, 2014 several areas in Idaho and Wyoming were under the first High Warnings for avalanche danger this season. The high level means that either natural or human-triggered avalanches are likely and many have been reported.

These warnings come from places like the Bridger-Teton National Forest Avalanche Center and the Sawtooth National Forest Avalanche Center. How often these warnings are issued is really dependent on the season. The Sawtooth region didn’t have any high warnings last season.

“It’s pretty much at the level right now that any slope has the possibility, actually extreme likelihood it will avalanche,” said Blair Geiger, off-highway vehicle trainer for Idaho Parks and Recreation.

The winter storms from the past weekend storm brought heavy, wet snow on top of a weak snowpack. High winds only add to the high avalanche danger. “High” is level four on a scale of five, ranking from “low” to “extreme.”

“What’s important is that most people who die in avalanches trigger the avalanche that kill them. Typically they die in a level two or level three hazard,” said Bob Comey, director of the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center.

As skies become clear and dry this week, avalanche danger will likely decrease to those lower levels. However, it can still be a hazard, because more people are likely to go harder on the slopes and slopes that are still vulnerable to slides.

“Ninety-two percent of avalanche victims do trigger the avalanches themselves or by someone in their party,” said Geiger.

Many people playing in the back country know to have their beacon, shovel, and probe, but recreationalists should know how to avoid being the trigger.

“Be able to recognize avalanche terrain by the steep slopes, by the lack of vegetation or scoured vegetation. If you are seeing trees that look like they are pretty much brushed from the base down, trees shoved into other trees, or run out paths, those are probably some really good signs that it is a heavy avalanche area,” said Geiger.

Mother Nature is the best indicator. If there is an avalanche, chances are good it’s not the only one in the area.

It is hard to pinpoint just how many avalanches occurred over the weekend because of very low visibility and conditions that kept most people off the mountains. Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center is reporting 14 in the back country, though they suspect that number to be much higher.

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