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Last updated 5:07AM ET
December 17, 2017
KSUT Regional
KSUT Regional
Wolf Creek Area Still Weary Of Avalanches
(2008-02-11)
(ksut) - HOST LEAD: Wolf Creek Ski Area boasts itself on having The most snow in Colorado and it's proving to be true this year.
But along with having a lot of snow is having a lot of responsibility.

KSUT's Sarah Baumgartner reports.

DOG HANDLER CHRIS WITH ABRAHMS: SPEAK *BARK*

SARAH: Avalanche dogs like Abrahams, a 9-month-old black lab who is in his first year of training at Wolf Creek Ski area are one of the many strategies used by Ski Patrol to assist in the event of an avalanche.
Although Ski Patrol at Wolf Creek Ski Area has been fortunate enough to not need the dogs assistance as of yet, Mark Mueller, avalanche forecaster for the Colorado Department of Transportation and Colorado avalanche information center says that you can never underestimate the weather.
MARK MUELLER: THE MOUNTAINS ARE REALLY FRIENDLY AND THEY LET US GET AWAY WITH A LOT OF STUPID MISTAKES. BUT YOU KNOW ALL IT TAKES IS ONE. SOMETIMES WE GET AWAY WITH THOSE STUPID MISTAKES AND IT'S KIND OF THE WRONG REINFORCEMENT. WE DON'T REALIZE HOW MUCH WE WERE PUSHING IT BECAUSE WE GOT OUT OF IT. BUT THE LAST PAGE HASN'T BEEN WRITTEN ON THIS ONE UNTIL PROBABLY MAY OR JUNE. SO THERE'S NO SENSE IN RESTING ON OH WELL NOTHINGS HAPPENED YET. BECAUSE COULD BE IN THE NEXT 10 MINUTES, IT COULD BE 10 DAYS, IT COULD BE NEVER. YOU KNOW TAKING THAT KIND OF THING FOR GRANTED IS REALLY A BAD APPROACH.
According to Avalanche.org there have been 30 avalanche related fatalities in the United States since December. This does not include 2 snowboarders from New Mexico missing since early January at Wolf Creek Pass.
Across the 1,600 skiable acres along the continental divide Michael Ingram is a 9-year member of Ski Patrol and Search and Rescue at Wolf creek Ski Area. Ingrim deals with avalanches to some degree almost daily.
INGRIM: SOMETIMES WE GET UP HERE AND THE STORM HAS BLOWN THROUGH AND IT'S DEAD CALM. THE STARS ARE STILL OUT WE GET HERE WELL BEFORE SUNRISE PUT ALL OF OUR THINGS ON, WE RIDE THE LIFT UP IN THE DARK. THERE'S JUST SILENCE, SNOW IS GLISTENING UNDER THE MOON AND IT'S IT'S LIKE A DREAM OR A FANTASY IT REALLY IS IT'S GREAT. SO WE GO UP THERE AND WE TRY TO MOVE THE SNOW SO THAT IT MOVES IN SMALL INCRIMENTS. AS IT'S BUILDING WE GET IT TO MOVE. KIND OF LIKE SHOVELING YOUR DRIVEWAY, YOU DON'T WAIT UNTIL THE STORMS OVER BECAUSE THEN IT WILL BE IMPOSSIBLE.
Ingrim says ski patrol also uses what they call shots to create a controlled avalanche. The shots, are similar to the impact of an M-80 firework but are vibrant orange in color and the size of soup can.
Ingrim is also a handler to another avalanche rescue dog Sequoia. Sequoia and Abrams are two of the five full time avalanche dogs on the mountain.
INGRIM: WITHOUT A DOG WE WOULD HAVE TO ROUND UP HOWEVER MANY PEOPLE WOULD BE AVAILABLE. HAND THEM ALL PROBES; STRING THEM OUT IN A LINE AND START MARCHING UP THE HILL MEHTODICALLY. IT TAKES A VERY LONG TIME. AND IT'S A GAME OF, IT IS A GAME OF TIME AND LUCK. THE DOGS TAKE A LOT OF THE TIME AND LUCK OUT OF IT.
Snow responsibility doesn't just apply to the ski area, but also to the roads leading up to it.
Wolf Creek Pass has been closed almost a record number of days this year according to Mueller.
As I drive up the west side of the snow-packed mountain pass, snow banks are as high as 10 feet in some spots while in others the snow is towering up so much that it's even difficult to see the speed limit signs.
Mueller says that CDOT crews working on the pass are really the ones that carry the greatest risk of avalanche danger.
MUELLER: YOU KNOW A LOT OF US JUST TRAVEL OVER THE PASS ONCE OR IF YOU GO TO THE SKI AREA UP IN THE MORNING BACK IN THE AFTERNOON. BUT THOSE GUYS ARE MAKING REPEATED PASSES UNDERNEATH ALL OF THOSE AVALANCHE PATHS. SO OUR TRAINING WITH THEM IS REALLY IMPORTANT AND THEIR BEING ABLE TO RECOGNIZE HAZARDS AND DEAL WITH ANY EMERGENCIES THAT MIGHT COME UP ON THE HIGHWAY. FORTUNATELY THAT HASN'T BEEN AN OCCURRENCE, BUT DODGED A COUPLE BULLETS THIS YEAR AND ITS REALLY MADE EVERYBODY ON THEIR GAME AS FAR AS THE AVALANCHE THING GOES.
According to Mueller several neighboring areas helped contribute to snow removal including snow cats from Wolf Creek Ski Area, equipment from Pueblo, LaVita, Monte Vista and Alamosa.
MUELLER: OUR GOAL IS SAFETY #1. IF THERE'S A QUESTION ABOUT THE HIGHWAY BEING SAFE WE SHUT IT DOWN MAKE IT SAFE AND THEN WE GET AFTER IT WITH AS MUCH ORANGE EQUIPMENT AS WE CAN PUT IN PLACE TO GETTING THE PASS BACK IN SOME SORT OF SHAPE SO WE CAN TAKE ANOTHER STORM.

From KSUT-Four Corners Public Radio, I'm Sarah Baumgartner.

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