On the Hill: Safety review
U.S. Forest Service snow rangers and ski patrol leaders in Colorado are reviewing snow safety plans following a fatal spring avalanche at Arapahoe Basin.”The goal is to look at [the plans] and see how well they address not only wet snow and wet slab conditions, but all conditions,” said Joe Foreman, the Forest Service winter sports expert at the Dillon Ranger District in Silverthorne. “If we find there’s a problem, we’ll go back and address it. In light of the accident, we’re going to look at everything.”The wet-snow avalanche killed David Conway while he was skiing inbounds on May 20.Foreman is reviewing the plans for ski areas in the eastern part of the White River National Forest, encompassing Summit and Eagle counties. Aspen-based snow ranger Jim Stark is doing the same for the ski areas in the western zone, including the Aspen resorts. Regional Forester Rick Cables set the Dec. 1 deadline for the review with the aim of making changes before the start of the season.”The one I have looked at is A-Basin and I’m very comfortable with it,” Foreman said. The review goes above and beyond regular annual reviews of winter operating plans.Stark said the direction from the regional office was to specifically consider “language for warm weather” snow safety protocols, in addition to the general review of snow-safety plans. He said the Aspen areas have special warm-weather rules in place, based in part on avalanche atlases that identify potential hot spots. Those atlases pinpoint areas that may need to be closed early because of changing weather and snow conditions, based partly on the fact that the major Aspen areas are at lower elevations, where warm temperatures can be a more significant factor than at higher ski areas.The deadly May avalanche on A-Basin’s Palivacinni terrain marked the first time a slide killed an in-bounds skier in Colorado in 30 years.Conway died of blunt trauma head injuries despite efforts by rescuers to revive him when he was found about 30 minutes after he the slide caught him.Ski injury attorney Jim Chalat, speaking on behalf of Conway’s family, said last week that the family is still considering whether to take legal action.
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The blizzards of January and February seem like distant dreams to Colorado water managers. What started as a promising year for water supply — with above-average snowpack as of April 1 — ended Sept. 30 with the entire state in some level of drought.