Ski patrols discuss avalanche safety through the spring season

There has been a persistent weak layer of snow in the Rocky Mountain West throughout the entire winter season
Published: Mar. 4, 2021 at 4:59 PM MST
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TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) — As of Feb. 22, avalanches have claimed 25 lives in the Western United States this year.

Even though the weather is starting to warm up, the avalanche danger is still considerable.

As many plan to hit the slopes this spring season, it is important to be safe.

“Sometimes, they do get injured, they’ll ding a shoulder, they’ll sprain a knee, they’ll sprain a wrist, so we are there to help them,” said Marc Lopshire, the ski patrol director for Magic Mountain Ski Resort.

All of the ski patrollers at Magic Mountain are volunteers, and they are dedicated to helping someone if they get hurt.

Every ski patrol member is required to volunteer a minimum of 10 days on the mountain a year.

“We just ask that you be fit, you have all your stuff, you can ski or snowboard, tow a 75-pound sled, and then once we put a 150-pound person in it, you can tow that down so we can care for those injured individuals,” Lopshire said.

While avalanches are not common in the South Hills, the danger is prominent in higher elevations around the Western United States.

“There has been a higher than average amount of avalanche incidents, where humans were involved with the avalanche,” said Amy David from the Sawtooth Avalanche Center in Sun Valley. “Then a higher amount of actual deaths in North America this year by quite a large amount.”

There has been a persistent weak layer of snow in the Rocky Mountain West throughout the entire winter season.

“But it doesn’t go away and now it’s a deep persistent layer, and maybe that deep avalanche is less likely, but if it does slide,” David said. “It could be catastrophic and unsurvivable, if someone was caught in an avalanche with that deep persistent weak layer.”

David warns ski patrol can only keep people safe within resort boundaries.

When venturing into the wilderness areas, it is vital to have the right tools.

“Or you want to make sure you at least have this at minimum for your safety equipment going into the backcountry, and that would be a transceiver, a shovel and a probe,” David said.

Every ski patrol guide on the mountain has taken the same 4-month training course before they are able to hit the slopes.

Ski patrol guides at larger resorts where avalanches are more common are also trained in avalanche mitigation efforts.

The Sawtooth Avalanche Center offers courses and training classes for the public.

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