A Telluride-area skier last week was fortunate that a bad situation did not end in tragedy when an avalanche broke loose and carried him on a rock-ridden ride. His preparedness for and awareness of avalanche conditions almost certainly helped Eric Zuaro avoid serious injury or worse. Even so, his experience reminds us of the inherent danger of heading into the backcountry during snow season.
Zuaro thought he had skied beyond any potential avalanche's reach when he was caught up in the slide and carried through rocks and debris and buried a few feet deep in the avalanche that was 30 feet deep in some places. Once the slide began, he began "swimming" to stay as close to the surface as possible. That and the fact that Zuaro was wearing a full-face helmet and padded clothing left him in far better shape than had he not been so prepared: He punctured a lung and broke several bones.
The alternative, of course, could have been far worse and reminds us of the necessity of preparedness and education before venturing on backcountry ski or snowboarding adventures. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center can help travelers plan their trips. The center offers a daily forecast for snow conditions in Colorado's mountain country, and the San Juans in the area for Tuesday were shown as having a moderate chance of human-triggered avalanches. That is important to know, as is bringing the proper equipment and knowledge of how to minimize risks should an slide occur.
There is much fun to be had, summer and winter, in the breathtaking backcountry that surrounds us here in Southwest Colorado, but it requires an investment of energy to stay safe.