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Originally published Friday, February 14, 2014 at 4:40 PM

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Editorial: Respect avalanche hazards

Winter avalanche hazards must be factored into planning for ski and snowboard outings in the midst of risky weather conditions.


Seattle Times Editorial

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ROBUST winter snowfalls created lethal avalanche conditions that claimed six lives in Oregon, Colorado and Utah this month.

Warnings are currently posted about avalanche hazards throughout the Cascades in Washington. Similar conditions claimed lives two years ago.

Anyone venturing out into the snowy backcountry for skiing and snowboarding is duty-bound to check online with the Northwest Avalanche Center.

The center was on high alert for conditions on Friday, with a posting of considerable risk Saturday. Here is how the center describes its scope:

“NWAC avalanche forecasts apply to backcountry avalanche terrain in the Olympics, Washington Cascades and Mt. Hood area. These forecasts do not apply to developed ski areas, avalanche terrain affecting highways and higher terrain on the volcanic peaks above the Cascade crest level.”

In 2012, three skiers and one snowboarder died in two avalanches at Stevens and Snoqualmie passes.

Two Washington members of a ski party died in Oregon this week and others were severely injured. An avalanche at Stevens Pass injured a father and son.

Circumstances vary, but often the setting is one of various euphemisms: backcountry, sidecountry or more bluntly, out-of-bounds, areas posted as closed and hazardous.

Outdoor training and survival skills are basic, along with decent experience on skis or a snowboard for challenging terrain. But the overriding point is that Mother Nature does not respect expertise or indulge a lack of skills.

Steep slopes, layers of fresh snow and variable weather conditions trump the best-prepared and best-intended of those out for an exhilarating adventure outdoors.

Check out the avalanche reports, be honest about one’s knowledge and skill level and be willing to postpone the outing.

Careful, skilled skiers and snowboarders are no match for the vagaries of winter weather. Don’t push the limits of discretion and preparation in pursuit of ungroomed powder. And do indeed stay inbounds.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).




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