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Observer 11/24/14

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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow Avalanche risk minimal at area ski resorts

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Avalanche risk minimal at area ski resorts

A trio of cross-country skiers make tracks at Anthony Lakes Saturday. (PHIL BULLOCK/The Observer)
A trio of cross-country skiers make tracks at Anthony Lakes Saturday. (PHIL BULLOCK/The Observer)

The potential danger of an avalanche resonated tragically last week after two skiers died in the rugged back country of the Wallowa Mountains near Cornucopia.

One area where the avalanche danger may seem obvious is the steep slopes of regional ski resorts. Yet for many of the most popular winter recreation destinations in the region the avalanche danger is either minimal or nonexistent. 

Some ski resorts — such as Bogus Basin near Boise, Idaho — do not boast the kind of terrain that typically helps spawn avalanches while other winter getaways spend a great deal of time alleviating the potential threat.

“It is just not an issue with us,” Bogus Basin General Manager Alan Moore said.

The Boise-area resort — which along with ski runs also showcases Nordic trails and condominiums — is fortunate because of the type of terrain and the climate around it.

“We just don’t have the kind of slopes and snow that lead us to have avalanches,” Moore said. 

“I’ve been here 13 years and I know there haven’t been any avalanches.”

At Anthony Lakes, the staff expend a lot of time ensuring the groomed areas of the resort are as safe as possible, Marketing Director Chelsea McLagan said.

“Our ski patrol goes out early and patrols the entire mountain and skies every run to ensure safety,” McLagan said. “There is no history of slide here.”

Tucked into the high mountain shadows of central Idaho, Brundage Mountain touts its legendary snow and thrifty prices to skiers. Unlike Bogus and Anthony Lakes, staff at Brundage do occasionally find areas that may be a risk for an avalanche. Once those areas are identified ski patrol personnel find a way to mitigate the risk, including using explosives on areas deemed potentially dangerous.

“Our ski patrol does go out and checks every day and will sometimes use explosives to control avalanche danger,” said April Whitney, Brundage Mountain communications director.

Whitney said the highest risk of avalanche danger is not the groomed slopes at the resort but in the remote high country nearby. 

Brundage Mountain does offer Snow-Cat Adventures, a guided backcountry tour for downhill skiers and snowboarders where the avalanche danger is evaluated very carefully by trained personnel.

“We pay very close attention to the avalanche forecasts. We would guide (in the backcountry) people out on lower angled terrain. We are familiar with the terrain out there and we know the areas to avoid. Everyone in our backcountry trips wears a beacon,” she said.

Whitney said Brundage Mountain has not encountered any serious avalanche incidents this year but emphasized that recreationists should never leave the groomed areas of the resort unless accompanied by a trained guide.

Tragedy often occurs, Whitney said, when skiers journey out alone.

“When people get into trouble is when they hike out on their own and are not really paying attention to avalanche conditions and heeding the warnings. It is often more a matter of assessment and avoidance,” she said.

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