Colorado Snowpack is Extremely Dangerous and getting Worse

FEBRUARY 2018 ISSUE |Large & Dangerous
We Have a Deep Problem
After a dry start to the winter, the snowpack in the Colorado mountains is rapidly increasing. The increase in snow over the last few weeks is building a thick slab on top of a weak foundation. This weak layer of snow that sits near the ground has been producing avalanches for most of the winter. With a thicker slab, the avalanches are now much larger. Avalanches are breaking at the ground and are hundreds, sometimes more than a thousand, feet wide. If you get caught, it will be hard to survive.

These are very large Persistent and Deep Persistent Slab avalanches. These types of avalanches are especially dangerous as you may not see the usual signs of unstable snow that you rely on: shooting cracks, rumbling collapses or recent avalanches. The only way to stay safe from these avalanches is to avoid terrain over 30 degrees in the areas that can produce these types of destructive avalanches. The snowpack this winter is unlike the past few winters. The steep slope that you rode safely last season or last month, may now be dangerous.

This is an important time to take a step back and carefully consider the terrain you want to ride. These conditions could last for the rest of the winter. Many of the big avalanche paths that you see in Colorado were formed during avalanche years like this one. Watch the video below and share with your friends. Always get the forecast before you head into the backcountry.

Cheers to CAIC with Coffee!
There is nothing better than a hot cup of coffee before, during and after your backcountry ventures! Bivouac Coffee is our official coffee partner for the 2017-2018 season! When you purchase their delicious coffee beans you are directly supporting your avalanche center.

10% of all Bivouac Coffee purchases support avalanche awareness and forecasting throughout Colorado.

Let’s cheers to that! Visit Bivouac Coffee’s website today.

Upcoming Events

Down for Change!

Sunday, March 4
Breckenridge Ski Resort
How many vertical feet can you ski or ride in a day? Take part in this competition and benefit CAIC while doing it! Learn more by clicking here.


On-Snow Pop Up!

Saturday, March 3
Location TBD
Join Friends of CAIC and Bivouac Coffee at one of the popular backcountry trailheads along I-70 for some coffee, swag and more. Check back in soon for more information!


WP Beers & Cheers

Sunday, March 18
Hideaway Park Brewery, Winter Park
Coming at you, Winter Park! Join us for beers and cheers in support of your avalanche center. Check back in soon for more information!


Party for a Purpose

Saturday, March 24
Highlands Alehouse, Aspen
Mark your calendars, Aspen! The party you love is back thanks to Strafe Outerwear. Check back in soon for more information!

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“Breaking on through to the weekend. Plenty of new snow and hidden dangers in the backcountry so be safe. Know b4 you go!”
– JJ, @peter_deepinpow
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Backcountry skier sues in Small Claims Court in San Miguel County Colorado for injuries she received when a backcountry snowboarder triggered an Avalanche that injured her.

The defendant snowboarder had agreed not to descend the slope until the lower parties had called and told them they had cleared the area. The defendant failed to wait and admitted he had triggered the Avalanche.

BEFORE COMMENTING READ EVERYTHING. I WAS NOT THE ATTORNEY FOR EITHER PARTY IN THIS CASE. The defendant in his comments about this article made that statement that I was the plaintiff’s attorney. He was the one in court, not me. How he made that mistake I don’t know. But Sober Up!

State: Colorado, San Miguel Small Claims Court

Plaintiff: Jayleen Troutwin

Defendant: Christopher Parke

Plaintiff Claims: Negligence

Defendant Defenses:

Holding: for the plaintiff

Year: 2017


Under Colorado law, you can create a duty when you agree to act or not act. Here the defendant created a duty when he agreed not to descend the slope until he had received a phone call from the first party that they had cleared the danger area.

This is a first of its kind suit that I have found, and the judge’s decision in this case is striking in its clarity and reasoning. At the same time, it might open up backcountry injuries to more litigation. The facts that created this lawsuit are specific in how the duty was created, and that will be rare in 90% of the backcountry accidents.

I have attached the written decision of the court to this analysis, and I encourage you to read it.

Facts: taken from the complaint, the CAIC Report and The Order of Judgment

The plaintiff was skiing out of bounds in Bear Creek outside of the Telluride Ski Area. While skiing they ran into the defendant and his friend. The defendant and friend were not ready to go, so the plaintiff and friend took off. The plaintiff and friend stated they would call the defendant when they were out of the danger zone at the bottom of the chute they both intended to ski.

The defendant and his friend did not wait, and triggered an avalanche. Plaintiff was still repelling when the avalanche hit her sweeping her off the rappel, and she fell 1200 feet down the slope riding the avalanche. She survived on top of the snow with several injuries.

The defendant admitted that it was his fault, and he would pay for the plaintiff’s medical bills. He made one payment and no others. The Plaintiff’s medical bills were in excess of $50,000. However, she still skied out after the incident.

The plaintiff sued the defendant in Small Claims Court. Small Claims court is for parties without attorneys, and the judge can grant a maximum of $7500.00 in damages.

Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.

Normally, participants in sporting or outdoor recreation events assume the risks inherent in the sport. Avalanches are an inherent risk of skiing. The Colorado Supreme Court has stated that in Colorado Supreme Court rules that an inbounds Avalanche is an inherent risk assumed by skiers based upon the Colorado Skier Safety Act.

Under most circumstances, the plaintiff in this situation would have assumed the risk of her injuries. What sets this decision apart was the agreement at the top of the mountain between the two groups of people. One group agreed not to descend into the chute until the other group had cleared the chute.

This creates an assumed duty on the part of the defendant. By agreeing to the acts, the plaintiff assumed a duty to the defendant.

The assumed duty doctrine “must be predicated on two factual findings.” “A plaintiff must first show that the defendant, either through its affirmative acts or through a promise to act, undertook to render a service that was reasonably calculated to prevent the type of harm that befell the plaintiff.” “Second, a plaintiff must also show either that he relied on the defendant to perform the service or that defendant’s undertaking increased plaintiff’s risk.”

This assumed duty was done specifically to prevent injuries to the other skiers. The skiers also relied on this agreement when they skied down the slope.

This Court, therefore, finds that the Defendant assumed a duty of care in agreeing not to ski his chosen route while Troutwin and Hope were still skiing theirs in an effort to avoid a skier-triggered avalanche.

Thus, when the defendant started down the chute, he violated the agreed to duty of care to the skiers below them.

The next issue to prove negligence in this case is causation or proximate causation. The breach of the duty by the defendant must be related to the injury the plaintiff received. The court simply found but for the actions of the defendant, the injuries of the plaintiff would not have occurred.

The defendant admitted triggering the avalanche, and the avalanche is what swept the plaintiff off the rappel.

The defendant raised two defenses at trial. Comparative Negligence and Assumption of Risk.

Comparative negligence asks, “did the actions of the plaintiff create or expose the plaintiff to an unreasonable risk of harm?” Comparative negligence is applied to reduce the damages the plaintiff might receive if both parties are at fault in causing the injuries to the plaintiff.

The defendant argued the plaintiff assumed the risk of her injuries and was a partial cause of her injuries when she did not use a backup device on her rappel.

The court looked at the failure to use a backup system on rappel as the same as failing to wear a seatbelt in a car or failing to wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle. Both have been determined by the Colorado Supreme Court to not be a component contributing to comparative negligence.

The reasoning behind this is simple. The plaintiff should not be required to determine in advance the negligence of any third party. Meaning it is not the injured parties’ duty, in advance to determine and then deal with any possible negligence of any other person. If that was the case, you could never leave the house because you never guessed what injury you might have received.

…[f]irst, a defendant should not diminish the consequences of his negligence by the failure of the injured party to anticipate defendant’s negligence in causing the accident itself. Second, a defense premised on an injured party’s failure to wear a protective helmet would result in a windfall to tortfeasors who pay only partially for the harm their negligence caused. Third, allowing the defense would lead to a veritable battle of experts as to what injuries would have or have not been avoided had the plaintiff been wearing a helmet.

The court found that neither comparative negligence, nor assumption of the risk applied to these facts and were not a defense to the plaintiff’s claims.

The court also added a section to its opinion about the future of backcountry skiing and the Policy issues this decision might create. It is well-written and worth quoting here.

51. This Court has determined that Parke’s duty of care is a result of his express assumption of that duty, rather than broader policy concerns that are typically addressed in protracted discussions of legal duty. It is nevertheless, worth noting that given the increasing popularity of backcountry skiing and skiing into Bear Creek, in particular, the risk of skiers triggering avalanches above one-another is likely increasing. In situations where skiers have no knowledge of whether a group is below, the legal outcome of an accident may be different than the result reached here. A liability rule that thus encourages skiers to avoid investigating whether their descent might pose a risk to those below feels averse to sound public policy. Communication and coordination between groups of backcountry skiers is surely good practice.

52. But meaningful communication is not necessarily impossible in these circumstances. This Court is swayed by the availability of radios like that which Troutwin and Hope carried. These radios are a communication option that appears more reliable than cellular telephones. Perhaps if they become more prevalent, more communication between parties will take place. And it follows and is foreseeable that other communications platforms or safety standards will develop to address this specific risk. The liability rule discussed here does not necessarily foreclose those developments.

53. The ethics and liability rules associated with backcountry skiing are likely to continue to evolve as its popularity increases and safety standards emerge. The law is likely to continue to evolve in kind.

It is refreshing to see a judge look at the broader aspect of his or her decision as it applies to an evolving sport.

The court found that the plaintiff suffered $9,660.00 in damages. The jurisdictional limit a Colorado Small Claims court can issue is a maximum of $7,500.00, which is the amount the plaintiff was awarded.

So Now What?

If you say you are going to do something, do it. If you say you are going to wait, wait. It is that simple.

More importantly, litigation has now entered the realm of backcountry skiing. Will it create more litigation, probably? Backcountry skiers who have no health insurance or no income while they recover will be looking for a way to get hospital bill collectors off their phone and pizza coming to the front door. Worse, health insurance companies will look at a way through their subrogation clauses to try to recover the money they pay out on behalf of their insureds.

At the same time, based upon these facts, the defendant was the sole cause of the plaintiff’s injuries not because he triggered an avalanche, but because he agreed not to trigger an avalanche.

Documents Attached:

Notice, Claim and Summons to Appear for a Trial.   


Trial Exhibits 1 through 9

Exhibit 1

Exhibit 2

Exhibit 3

Exhibit 4

Exhibit 5

Exhibit 6

Exhibit 7

Exhibit 8

Exhibit 9

Order of Judgment

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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CAIC Benefit Bash raised over $100K, save the date for 2018 December 1, 2018

DECEMBER 2017 ISSUE |What a Bash!
Decade Deep : A Recap

The 10th Annual CAIC Benefit Bash raised $118,640.99 for avalanche forecasting and education in Colorado!

What a Bash. This event would not have been possible without the 125 incredibly generous sponsors, 70 hard working volunteers, 6 breweries that donated delicious beer, and the Summit County restaurant community that fed all1,200 of us. We are especially thankful for all of you that joined us and helped us break our fundraising record once again. To view photos from the party, click here for our Facebook photo album. Photos provided by the talented Rebecca Wissman.

Saturday, December 1st, 2018
11th Annual CAIC Benefit Bash
“Up to 11”
Riverwalk Center, Breckenridge


Friends of CAIC Launch Version 2 of the CAIC Mobile App!

We are proud to announce that we have launched version 2 of our mobile app for both Android and Apple devices. We could not have done this without our partnership with The North Face.The mobile app project aligns directly with our effort to make the avalanche forecasts easily accessible across a variety of platforms. Version 2 of the mobile app optimizes the daily zone avalanche forecasts for all 10 zones across Colorado. Our focus for version 2 was an updated user interface that provided a cleaner path to the avalanche forecast, danger ratings, and zone weather tables.

Our partnership with The North Face merges technology with a common goal to provide avalanche information to our incredible community of backcountry users. We are excited to continually update the app to provide additional resources and tools.

Download the latest version here:

2017 Annual Report
Over the past year the Friends of CAIC and CAIC have made great strides in building the best avalanche center possible.

Your donations continue to drive and improve our programs for backcountry forecasting and education throughout Colorado. You can see more in our FY2017 Annual Report by clicking here.

Want to give back?
Whether you use the CAIC forecasts every day or once a year, please consider making a year-end donation to support avalanche forecasting and education in Colorado. A donation of even $25 helps us continue to improve our programs. Please donate today and support your avalanche center.
Donate Now
Upcoming Events

Backcountry Brains

Sunday, January 7
Grab your smartest friends and join Friends of CAIC and Breckenridge Distillery for an apres snow trivia party! Learn more by clicking here.


Monarch Backcountry Day

Saturday, January 13
Mark your calendars for what will be a fun backcountry awareness and demo day at Monarch! More information coming soon.


BV Backcountry Day

Saturday, January 21
The Trailhead, Buena Vista
Demos of ALL KINDS: Skis, splitboards, cross-country, snowshoes, fat bikes…plus a killer after-party. All proceeds benefit the CAIC. Learn more by clicking here.


16th Annual Beacon Bowl

Saturday, February 3
Arapahoe Basin Ski Area
It’s back! Beacon search competitions, avy search dogs, apres party – what more can you ask for? Learn more by clicking here.

Featured Follower
Tag us for a chance to be featured!
@friendsofcaic | #friendsofcaic
“Epic weekend in the mountains with Backcountry Babes and some new adventure-loving friends for my AIARE 1. We learned about avalanche safety, following our intuition, companion rescue, the mechanics of snowpack, and so much more! Can’t wait to continue learning and practicing these skills in the mountains this winter!”
– Kim Allen, @kimexplorescolorado



10th Annual CAIC Benefit Bash – Get your tickets now!

Tickets are selling quickly. Do you have yours?

Join the Friends of CAIC on Saturday, December 2, at the Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge and support the CAIC in their continued efforts in avalanche forecasting and education throughout Colorado. Get your tickets now before they sell out.

Saturday, December 2
10th Annual CAIC Benefit Bash
Breckenridge Riverwalk Center
5:00pm – 10:00pm
Tickets and more information:

Here are few things you have to look forward to:

We look forward to seeing you on December 2!

2 People have already died in Avalanches this Year. Sign up and Support the Colorado Avalanche Information Center


Backcountry Avalanche Forecast
Front Range



We continue to receive reports of avalanches breaking into old, weak snow. Combine this with widespread shooting cracks and large thunderous collapses, and we have plenty of good evidence that dangerous avalanche conditions exist on north and east-facing slopes at higher elevations. The most suspect slopes now have freshly form wind-drifted slabs from the 1 to 4 inches of new snowfall, stacked on top of older early season snow. The slopes with the best coverage are also the slopes where you’re most likely to trigger an avalanche. You can trigger avalanches from a distance and from below, so give this terrain a wide buffer to address the unpredictability.

we now have slabs 1 to 2 feet thick on east-facing slopes, and you might be able to trigger an avalanches in just the freshly drifted snow even in areas that don’t harbor more deeply buried weak layers. Drum-like or hollow sounds underfoot are signs of this problem. You can reduce your risk by avoiding slopes where you observe active wind loading.

Persistent Slab


What You Need to Know About These Avalanches Persistent Slab avalanches can be triggered days to weeks after the last storm. They often propagate across and beyond terrain features that would otherwise confine Wind and Storm Slab avalanches. In some cases they can be triggered remotely, from low-angle terrain or adjacent slopes. Give yourself a wide safety buffer to address the uncertainty.

Wind Slab


What You Need to Know About These Avalanches Wind Slab avalanches release naturally during wind events and can be triggered for up to a week after a wind event. They form in lee and cross-loaded terrain features. Avoid them by sticking to wind sheltered or wind scoured areas.

Weather Forecast for 11,000ft

Issued Wednesday, November 22, 2017 at 6:33 AM by Brian Lazar

Wednesday Wednesday Night Thursday
Temperature (ºF) 35 to 40 25 to 30 40 to 45
Wind Speed (mph) 15 to 25 15 to 25 15-25 G50
Wind Direction WNW WNW WNW
Sky Cover Mostly Cloudy Partly Cloudy Partly Cloudy
Snow (in) 0 to 1 0 0

© 2008-2014 Colorado Avalanche Information Center. All rights reserved.

If you work in the Ski Industry you need to be a Member of the American Avalanche Association. Upcoming Avalanche Training for the 2017-18 Season Announced.

Hello American Avalanche Association (A3) Members & Friends,

A3 and our alliance of six professional course providers are excited to announce this season’s Pro course offerings. We have been working collaboratively for years to develop a program of professional avalanche education in the United States. Most recently, on October 20th, A3 professional course providers met in Golden, Colorado to iron out some of the last details of this season’s course rollout. As a result, we are now proud to introduce a distinct program of high-quality and consistent professional training designed for the advancement of our nation’s avalanche workers.

If you are considering a Pro course this season, the following course providers are progressing through a multi-year A3 Pro Training review process:

Alaska Avalanche School – Pro 1, Pro 1 Bridge

American Avalanche Institute – Pro 1, Pro 1 Bridge, Pro 2

American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) – Pro 1, Pro 1 Bridge, Pro 2

Colorado Mountain College Leadville – Pro 1 – CMC Avalanche Science Certificate format

National Avalanche School – Pro 1 – NAS format

Silverton Avalanche School – Pro 1, Pro 1 Bridge

Please contact each of these Pro Course Providers directly about schedules and enrollment on a Pro Training course this winter. At this time, A3 recognizes Pro 1, Pro 1 Bridge, and Pro 2 courses from the six providers above who are proceeding through a rigorous review process. Our goal is to hone course quality and consistency amongst this initial group of pro providers before potentially expanding the program in the future. Other courses may still provide valuable training and/or continuing education, however, they are not recognized as part of the A3 Pro Training Program. For general questions about the A3 Pro Training Program you can visit the a3. Read on for more information on the new Pro courses…

Who should take a new Pro Course? And why?

A3 Pro Training courses – currently, Pro 1, Pro 1 Bridge, and Pro 2 – offer valuable, relevant skill development for avalanche workers at a variety of points in their careers. These programs provide a clear path for avalanche workers just entering the industry, as well as serve as excellent resources for seasoned professionals to gain the most current updates and refresh their skills. All A3 Pro Training courses:

  • Meet or exceed collaboratively designed, industry-driven skill and proficiency guidelines.
  • Are taught by top educators who also have a solid background of operational avalanche experience.
  • Teach, coach, and evaluate students to a consistent standard.

Pro 1is appropriate for entry-level avalanche professionals newly employed or seeking employment within the industry as well as seasoned avalanche professionals who wish to refresh their skills and get up to speed with current practices. The course covers skills and proficiencies that enable an individual to be a contributing member of an operational avalanche program, including making and documenting relevant observations to SWAG standards, managing personal and group risk in avalanche terrain, and contributing informed opinions during risk management discussions. Find more specific Pro 1 course details here.

Pro 1 Bridge is appropriate for individuals who recently took a Level 2 course and/or regularly apply snow and avalanche observation skills to SWAG standards in an operational setting and wish to demonstrate proficiency at the Pro 1 Level. To be set up for success, students should have their SWAG observation skills well-honed prior to this condensed course and be ready for rigorous evaluation. **Students who took a Level 2 course a long time ago and/or have not been applying snow and avalanche observation skills to SWAG standards in an operational setting are encouraged to consider a full Pro 1 course.** Review the Pro 1 Bridge evaluation criteria here.

Pro 2 is designed for developing avalanche professionals with several seasons of applied professional experience as well as seasoned professionals who are looking to develop skills applicable to leadership roles within their operation. The course covers skills and proficiencies that enable an individual to step into a leadership role within an operational avalanche program. A focus on operational risk management and decision-making skills such as forecasting, risk mitigation strategies, and professional communication. Find more specific Pro 2 course details here.

Again, please do not hesitate to reach out to A3 and/or individual Pro Course Providers with questions.


A3 & The Pro Training Provider Alliance



P.O. Box 248 * Victor, Idaho 83455 * Phone: (307) 699- 2049

a3 *


If you work outdoors in the Winter, you should be a member of the American Avalanche Association

Hello James,

This email contains a couple of updates from A3 Pro Training world. If you’d like to know more about hiring a new Pro Training Coordinator and/or this season’s Pro Trainer Workshops then read on…


We’re looking to hire a new Pro Training Coordinator (PTC) this fall. Josh Hirshberg and John Fitzgerald have collaborated to fill this role on an interim basis since last spring, and now it’s time to hire our permanent PTC. This position oversees and coordinates all programmatic aspects of A3’s Professional Avalanche Training Program. Accepting applications through October 31st. Ideal starting date in early December. If you or someone you know might be interested, check out/forward along the position description…

Pro Training Coordinator PD.pdf


Pro Trainer Workshops are for instructors who plan to lead professional avalanche courses for a Pro Course Provider as part of the A3 Pro Training Program. Enrollment priority is based on qualifications and affiliation with Pro Course Providers. These three-day workshops run by A3 focus on familiarization with Pro Training Course format, details, and evaluation standards.

This season’s workshops:

December 15-17, 2017 at Alta Ski Area, UT

April 6-8, 2018 at Mt Rose, NV

Workshop applications are due by October 31. Enrollment decisions made by mid-November. Workshop tuition is $400(Pro1)/ $500(Pro1&2). After initial enrollment period, any remaining workshop spots will be filled on a rolling basis from a prioritized wait list.

You will be asked for references, education, work history, documentation, and samples of writing. Please have materials ready to upload prior to starting the application. You will be asked to demonstrate that you meet or exceed the qualifications for Lead Trainers outlined in the Structure and Oversight document (found on A3 website Pro Training page). Here is a link to the application:

Please direct Pro Training questions to


P.O. Box 248 * Victor, Idaho 83455 * Phone: (307) 699- 2049

a3 *