Backcountry Patrols on the West Slope

By CMC Snow Ranger Matt Rothrock

The third season of the snow ranger program in Southwest Colorado is off to a great start in the Northern San Juans and the Grand Mesa. In a new direction for 2022, snow Rangers Matt and Shane have been splitting their time and effort between Red Mountain Pass on the Ouray Ranger district with the Grand Valley Ranger district this season, meaning the program is covering more ground than ever before. Already we have logged 37 days of work between the two ranger districts and made user contacts with nearly 300 public land users. From snow removal on the Grand Mesa during the massive holiday storms, to putting in the miles on our cross country skis, attending AIARE 1 in Silverton, to Forest Service snowmobile training on Grand Mesa, and patrolling popular backcountry routes on Red Mountain Pass; It has been a busy month!

Picking up on previous years of data collection, we continue to monitor parking areas on Red Mountain Pass and the Grand Mesa, putting our observations into CMC’s RIMS mobile application. Our data reflects all user groups we encounter while roving in the backcountry. Reflecting well-known concerns, our data continues to show that weekend parking and user traffic is consistently high at all trailhead parking from Red Mountain Pass Summit to Silverton and at the three nordic ski areas and one snowmobile trailhead on Grand Mesa. So far, there have been few parking issues and CDOT has been working tirelessly to provide more parking spaces wherever they can. Excellent snow conditions and sunny days have made our January weekends something to behold.  

We started the month off with moderate avalanche conditions in the Northern San Juans and the Grand Mesa after the holiday storm cycle put a thick slab of snow over a weak, faceted layer dating back to November. Conditions have steadily improved as the snow pack has consolidated under its own weight. We will continue to survey backcountry users on their avalanche training, knowledge of the daily CAIC forecast, and ask about beacon, shovel, probe, and air-bag use, and get out in the backcountry to talk to skiers as much as we can.

We have had the wonderful opportunity to meet many people that make up the outdoor community of the Ouray and Grand Valley Ranger Districts. We have been connecting with backcountry hut operators, local gear stores, local forecasters, highway equipment operators, regional visitor centers, and backcountry users of every skill and experience level. Some of our best memories on the job have been with the people we have interacted with. From weird and wacky stories told by life-long locals and skiers to the random assortments of people that band together to help get someone’s car unstuck from the snow.

Our training has made us more confident and connected to the resources we are all out there to enjoy. None of it would have been possible without our partners in the U.S. Forest Service and the resources, vehicles, and infrastructure they provide. Black Diamond Equipment has gone above and beyond to provide us with high quality equipment to patrol the backcountry from our outer shells to our lightweight backcountry skis and avalanche safety gear.

Catch the Snow Ranger Film during the 2022 Backcountry Film Fest!

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