Patrolling with the Snow Rangers

The snow has been falling, true blue Colorado skies are here and the powder runs have been great!  Snow Rangers Kricket Olin and Brian Ducay are in the full swing of winter work in the northern San Juan mountains.  They continue to patrol Red Mountain Pass and finally have enough snow to conduct snowmobile patrols in the Cimarron Mountains and the Uncompahgre Plateau.  Ecology Days with local 6th grade classes have also begun.  They work with The Nature Connection and lead students on a ski tour, dig snow pits and then have a hands-on lesson about animal survival in winter involving pelts and hot water bottles.  The Snow Rangers have also been checking on Wilderness Boundary signs and have been installing brightly colored avalanche educational posters at popular trail heads.

Avalanche conditions continue to keep us on our toes.  In a 2 week period starting in late January two separate avalanche events caught and killed 5 skiers in the Southwest CO.  To have this happen so close to home is both a tragic and a sobering reminder of the risks involved in backcountry touring. To put that into perspective, last year 6 backcountry users perished by avalanche in the entire state.  A persistent slab has remained with us this season.  The number of people skiing, splitboarding and snowmobiling seems to have increased this season as well.  The combination of a weak snowpack and more people recreating on the snow seems to be reflected by the higher than normal avalanche related deaths in the state.

On that note, this month we have continued our own avalanche education by taking a Recreation Level Avalanche 2 and Pro 1 class.  Each week we see classes on Red Mountain Pass being taught.  These courses include Recreation level courses, Pro courses and Companion Rescue.  From what we hear and see the classes are incredibly popular this year.  With more users in the backcountry, this education can build a foundation you need to make intelligent decisions on the snow.  If you have a few seasons under your belt or it’s been a while since continuing your avalanche education consider finding a class.  There are a plethora of schools in CO and across the country.  Or, do some of your own research.  A great place to start learning the lingo and weather trends is  Avalanche education is perishable knowledge so keep your mind in the game! 

One of the major goals for the Snow Ranger program is visitor use monitoring – we are trying to get a sense for who is traveling in the backcountry, where they are going, and how they are getting there. To keep track of it, we’re using the CMC RIMS mobile app – in just a few seconds, we can log people by use (skiers, snowmobilers, snowshoers, dogs, etc) and collect parking info (where and when lots are full, how many out-of-state visitors we’re seeing). The data is super helpful when planning for future recreation on the forest and balancing user needs with natural resource conservation. Stay tuned for our blog next month with a full report out of our findings!

To learn more about the Snow Ranger Program, visit

Also, huge thanks to our partners who make this program possible: Athletic Brewing, Black Diamond Equipment, the Telluride Foundation and the U.S. Forest Service.

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