TELLURIDE, Colo. – December was extraordinary in that three people died of avalanches on open ski trails within ski areas. It was the most in-bound deaths in one season since three skiers were killed in a single avalanche at Alpine Meadows, a California ski area, in 1976.
The result of these avalanche deaths, report both the Denver Post and New York Times , has produced a curious trend. People at both Telluride and Wyoming’s Jackson Hole Mountain Resort have been carrying avalanche transceivers for use on patrolled slopes. While transceivers, which are also called beacons, are common among backcountry skiers, the perception has been that in-bound slopes are without avalanche risk.
But if in-bound avalanches are exceeding rare, they have occurred. “We’re doing what we normally do,” said Bob Comey, director of the Bridger-Teton National Forest Avalanche Center. “Our techniques work really well, but they’re not ever 100 percent guaranteed.”
Paul Baugher, director of the Northwest Avalanche Institute, told the Denver paper that he wonders whether aggressive snow-safety programs at resorts have lulled skiers into complacency.
“It’s almost like we are victims of our own success,” said Baugher, who is also ski patrol director at Washington’s Crystal Mountain Ski Area. “People blot out that the areas they are skiing — the steep and deep terrain — are at risk for avalanches because our snow-safety programs have been so successful.”
Telluride has had no fatal in-bounds avalanches, but neither has it opened up the treasure chest of Palmyra Peak, this year’s expansion into steep and wild former backcountry terrain. “I have a zero-tolerance policy,” said Craig Sterbenz, director of snow safety at Telluride. “If it’s not safe, it’s not open.”
Christmas could have been worse
ASPEN, Colo. – It could be a much, much worse winter — namely one with no snow. Instead, records for December snowfall from Telluride to Aspen Highlands tumbled. And the holiday schedule this year allowed for people to excuse two weeks of vacation.
That said, how are the ski towns doing economically?
If you can ignore the giant vacuum that used to be the real-estate sector, spot evidence suggests ski towns are doing reasonably well. Vail, Aspen and other ski towns have been packed at times, if spending is clearly more measured and restrained.
The Aspen Times reports that Christmas week lodging occupancy this year was 67 per cent, compared to 87 per cent for the same period last year.