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Winter Weather Special: Avalanche Safety

Data pix.

SEATTLE -- The backcountry is a paradise for winter sports enthusiasts where you can carve through fresh, untracked powder. But like any uncontrolled environment, if there's enough snow to ride, there's enough snow to slide.

"I think over the course of a career of going out, even as a recreationalist, you are likely to be caught in an avalanche at some point," said Dennis D’Amico, Forecast Director of the Northwest Avalanche Center.

According to avalanche.org, avalanches kill, on average, 25 people each year in the United States. The key to minimizing your danger:

  1. Get the Forecast
  2. Get the Gear
  3. Get the Training

D'amico and a team of field meteorologists forecast for the Cascade Range in Washington state, the Olympics, and Mt. Hood in Northern Oregon.

"We're looking for rates of snowfall, amounts of snowfall, what are the snow levels doing, are they oscillating are they jumping up and down," said D'Amico.

NWAC helps maintain 50 weather stations in the mountains that report conditions hourly, and also works with WSDOT and ski areas. Most importantly, they work with you!

"If you see an avalanche, that’s the best piece of information we can get. Take a photo, go to our website, tell us where it was, when it was. That's a huge help to improving the product we're all using," said NWAC Executive Director Scott Schell.

NWAC says places that get heavy backcountry traffic are most likely for incidents, like Crystal Mountain, Alpental Valley in Snoqualmie Pass, and right outside the Mt. Baker ski area.

If you are entering avalanche terrain, you'll need the proper gear and you'll have to learn how to use it: 

  1. Avalanche Transciever
  2. Probe
  3. Shovel

"Training is as important as the gear. The gear alone isn't going to keep you out of avalanches. At a foundation, knowing what is and isn't avalanche terrain is really important. If I'm not in avalanche terrain, I don't have to worry about getting caught in an avalanche. As soon as I venture into avalanche terrain, now there's a whole another set of skills. Is it appropriate for me to be there?" adds Schell.

You can get conditions and submit tips here

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