Intro to Berthoud Pass and Words of Caution

What we have today at Berthoud Pass is a very unique backcountry community that at times can feel just as much like a resort as it does like backcountry. Some people enjoy the atmosphere, some people hate the crowds. Regardless of what it feels like, it is important to remember and realize that Berthoud Pass is backcountry and needs to be treated accordingly.

Personally, I never leave the parking lot without avy gear (and the knowledge of how to efficiently use it), even if I have 100% confidence that what I’m skiing on that day will not slide. Carrying this gear isn’t only for your own good, or the good of your group, but rather it’s a duty that you have as a participant in this sport to have the ability to look out for other people if the need arises.

Beyond avy gear it’s also your (and your group’s) responsibility to know the area you are going into well enough to make smart decisions. In a crowded environment, like at Berthoud, you’re not only putting your life at risk but you’re impacting the other people around you as well when you make a decision. In addition, you can have the best intentions to ski safe terrain, but if you get disoriented and end up somewhere you don’t want to be those intentions mean nothing.

Finally, it’s helpful to have an idea of the specific hazards other than avalanches that the different areas at the pass present at different times of year. Whether it’s falling in a creek, hitting a log or stump, getting cliffed out, or hitting one of the numerous concrete boxes near the aqueduct there are many hazards out there other than avalanches.

The traffic that the pass gets can be a good thing or a bad thing from a safety perspective. There are obvious situations where someone else (either inexperienced, inattentive, or inconsiderate) can put you directly at risk and it’s important to stay aware of what people around you are doing at all times.

On the other side of that coin, the amount of traffic that the area can see, especially early in the season, can actually be really helpful to the consolidation of the snowpack on the more popular lines. This can help some lines ski much better early in the season when we have storms dropping snow on top of an already consolidated base as opposed to fresh snow falling on previously unconsolidated loose snow. This can also be helpful in packing down a more solid base on lines that otherwise would be susceptible to becoming wind scoured. Finally this consolidation can reduce the likelihood and severity of avalanches on lines that see a lot of traffic, but this is absolutely not something you can count on if you don’t have substantial, recent, direct experience with the snowpack on that specific line.

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