One of the student questions that comes up regularly in AIARE-1 courses is whether it’s safe to go into the backcountry on days when the avalanche danger is elevated. Saturday December 23, 2017 was just such a day, the first time for the 2017-2018 season when the CAIC forecast High danger conditions for the Front Range zone.
This was the third day of an AIARE-1 course when we expect to have students practice leading a terrain tour. On this day a storm dropped 12-16 inches of new snow on top of 2-3 inches from the previous Wednesday (12/20).
Even with the High danger level in the forecast we knew that we could stay safe by staying far away from avalanche terrain; this involved a travel plan that avoided traveling on or under any slopes over 30-degrees.
With that limitation our touring group was able to navigate safely through the Hidden Valley area of RMNP and observe storm slabs forming on small (<10m) terrain features. It was a great learning experience to see avalanche problems forming from a safe location in the terrain which would make skiing steeper lines too risky.