Caution in back-country skiing

With the rising popularity of back-country skiing, it's a good idea to be well-versed in spotting avalanche danger. This is no area for amateurs, of course; for the inexperienced, following a professional guide makes infinite sense.

But sometimes skiers can find themselves in a situation where they have to determine the stability of a given snowpack. The more one has read and observed , the better. There are a growing number of books and articles about this type of skiing. Here are a few basic guidelines.

Never ski alone. Use the buddy system at the very least.

After heavy wet snows and where there is obvious avalanche danger, stay clear of slopes steeper than 30 degrees.

Make sure someone knows where you are going and when you are due back. Don't change your itinerary without leaving some kind of word. If avalanche danger exists, at least someone in the party should carry a small shovel. Skiers in guided parties in avalanche-prone areas normally carry radio beacons to aid quick location in a slide.

Know some of the avalanche clues: sudden collapse of snow; fractures propagating out from skis; persistent heavy snow or rain; formation of wind slabs. All are good reasons to turn back or take another route.

Cross the top of any area where a slide could occur one person at a time with the party spread out. If instability is suspected, stay in the trees, not on open slopes. Always obey posted warning signs and ski within roped boundaries at ski areas.

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