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Back-Country Boom Leads To Increased Avalanche Risk

By Derrick Coetzee via Wikimedia Commons

With the season’s first snow, the local Sierra Avalanche Center is gearing up its education efforts. 

Back-country skiing is booming in the Reno-Tahoe area.

“I don’t want to blame it on this, but like Go Pros, and social media? They have incredibly boosted a lot of, how should I say it -- you know … gusto, courage, armchair courage.”

That’s Don Triplat, executive director of the Sierra Avalanche Center. He says recent improvements in back-country equipment have also increased the number of people skiing in the wilderness. That’s not a bad thing, but Triplat says these days more people who don’t know how to read avalanche warning signs are heading into the back country. That’s alarming given that more than 90 percent of avalanche victims trigger their own slide.

“That’s why the education component is so important. If we train people to identify the issues and make good decisions, you don’t cause problems. There is no avalanche if you don’t trigger it. Natural avalanches occur on high and extreme days and that’s when most people are not in the back country because it’s just obviously too dangerous.”

The Avalanche Center is conducting trainings throughout the Reno/Tahoe area as winter gets underway (the next oneis at the Patagonia Outlet in Reno, on November 12th). It also issues a daily avalanche forecastwith the U.S. Forest Service. 

Amy Westervelt is a former contributor at KUNR Public Radio.