Despite avalanche danger, the lure of the backcountry remains

10:57 PM, Feb 23, 2014   |    comments
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KUSA - t's an untamed beauty, with the potential to collect a fatal price.

"Avalanches don't know you're an expert-- and I don't really think they care," said Duncan Rothwell, who survived an avalanche near Silverton one year ago this month.

The same avalanche claimed the life of Rothwell's friend, 23-year-old Peter Carver. Rothwell knew the potential risks with skiing in the backcountry, but there was the temptation to go anyway.

"Three words: deep powder snow," he said.

On average, avalanches kill nearly 30 people every year in the U.S. The latest death happened on Saturday near the Idaho-Montana border. Investigators say four men on snowmobiles triggered the avalanche. Three survived, but 49-year-old Bryan Harlow of Libby, Montana, died. There have now been at least 16 deaths so far this year. The numbers are a lot higher than in decades past- averaging in the single digits 60 years ago.

"I don't think there's more avalanches. I just think there's more people out there," Rothwell said. "The situation has changed a lot over the years. A lot of the access to the backcountry is now much easier and, therefore, there's many, many more people accessing the backcountry."

That concerns agencies like the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

"Forecasters and snow professionals kind of across most of the western U.S. are scared and nervous right now," said the CAIC's Brian Lazar, "and I think that's very telling."

That is why experts want anyone heading into the backcountry to know what they may be getting into.

"Get the appropriate information, make sure you're carrying the appropriate gear, you're traveling with other people and that you get proper avalanche education, so you know how to use all this information and gear before heading into the backcountry," Lazar said.

As for avalanche survivors like Duncan Rothwell, the lure of the backcountry remains.

"I think that's what makes it most fun," he said. "It's still an incredible experience."

Experts advise that if you go into the backcountry, don't go alone. Your gear should include a beacon, a probe and a shovel.

(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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