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Arts & Culture

Educators, Influencers Roll Out New Social Media Campaign To Promote Avalanche Awareness

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Colorado Avalanche Information Center
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Avalanche conditions in Colorado have been historically dangerous this season. In response, avalanche forecasters, educators and mountain athletes are promoting a social media campaign aimed at encouraging conservative decision making in the backcountry.

Avalanche conditions have been historically dangerous and deadly across Colorado this winter, prompting regional avalanche education and forecasting groups to rethink their social media strategy. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center, and its partner nonprofit Friends of CAIC, have been promoting the social media hashtag #LowAngleFTW, which encourages skiers, snowmobilers and others to share photos of themselves making conservative decisions away from avalanche-prone terrain while they’re recreating in the backcountry. (“FTW” refers to the acronym “for the win.”)

Backcountry users who share their photos with the hashtag on Instagram can win prizes from Friends of CAIC, or have their photos and videos shared by the organization’s social media accounts. Hundreds of photos have been tagged and shared with the hashtag within a couple weeks, according to Friends of CAIC, since #lowangleftw started popping up on social media in mid-February.

“We’ve actually been doing a fair amount of work on social media for over a decade,” said CAIC’s director Ethan Greene, noting that regional avalanche forecasts and educational videos are regularly uploaded to the organization’s accounts. “But people are going to interact with information in different ways. We’re trying to do the best we can to make sure that any interaction people have with content we create will help them understand avalanches better and understand the current conditions better.”

Forecasters say a “once-in-a-decade” snowpack fueled by dry weather and warm temperatures has created incredibly unstable, avalanche-prone layers in the snow. Snow conditions have been an issue across the Mountain West this year, but it has been particularly deadly in Colorado. The state saw 7 avalanche related fatalities throughout the first few weeks of February, including two separate accidents that buried and killed 4 Eagle county residents. Of the 33 avalanche related deaths nationwide this year, 10 have been in Colorado. 

“Avalanche conditions haven’t been this bad in over 10 years,” said local professional skier TJ David. “If you’ve been skiing for 10 years, you’ve maybe seen conditions like this once, if you’ve been skiing here for 20 years you’ve maybe seen conditions like this twice.”

Meanwhile, a report put out by CAIC in November of last year detailed that after Colorado ski resorts closed in March due to pandemic, skiers and others involved in avalanche accidents actually tended to have more experience in the backcountry. The number of avalanche accidents involving those with less experience generally went down.

David has been promoting the avalanche safety hashtag on his own Instagram account, with hopes that by sharing his own “low angle for the win” photos, others might make similar decisions they head into the backcountry. He is also one of a handful of Colorado mountain athletes that appeared on the Friends of CAIC’s Instagram account advocating for extreme caution during this remarkably dangerous year for avalanches.

“It’s just been a practice in patience of looking beyond just one winter,” he said. “As an athlete, but more in general as someone who loves to be out in the mountains backcountry skiing, it’s vital to look at things beyond one week, one month, one year. If you’re not looking beyond that you can end up taking on more risk than you should.”

Forecasters stress that with ski season ongoing and presumably more snow on the way, dangerous conditions are bound to be lurking in the snow even into spring. Meantime, social media users are encouraged to continue sharing their #lowangleftw photos throughout the winter when they head into the backcountry.

 

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