Officials warn of avalanche dangers in the high country

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FLAGSTAFF., Ariz -- The Coconino County Sheriff's Office is reminding back-country mountain travelers to be alert for potential avalanche hazards on the San Francisco Peaks. 

Most avalanches occur during and shortly after a storm. As of late Sunday afternoon, the Arizona Snowbowl reported 26" of new snow on top of the existing snow base. 

Snowbowl personnel also reported some natural collapsing of the snow, which could lead to avalanches in unmaintained areas. 

Sheriff's officials say it's important for travelers to be aware that no avalanche control is conducted in the back-country outside of the Arizona Snowbowl Ski area boundary and the back-country is not patrolled. 

Back-country skiers and snowboarders should be aware that current snowfall may not have reached a depth to sufficiently cover obstacles such as rocks and timber in the back-country.

All out-of-bounds skiers should be aware of increased possibilities of avalanches.  On Tuesday, the winds are expected to pick up and will greatly increase these avalanche dangers. 

This warning comes just weeks after a sledding accident near Flagstaff that claimed the life of a Tempe teenager. 17 year old Jake McGrady died when his plastic sled slammed into a  tree earlier this month.

For information on high country conditions, please see the conditions summary on the AZ Snowbowl website.  The AZ Snowbowl, US Forest Service and the Coconino County Sheriff's Office request that all skiers use caution when skiing out of the maintained areas. 

People venturing into mountainous terrain should carry avalanche rescue equipment such as a shovel, avalanche rescue beacon, avalanche probe, and winter survival gear.  Be prepared for travel and emergencies in the remote winter mountain environment where rescue is not immediate. 

You're also advised to not travel alone and leave a detailed trip plan with a responsible person.  Your best chance for survival in an avalanche is companion rescue.  It is important to review recent weather reports and forecasts as well as driving conditions prior to and during your trip. 

Carrying a cell phone is recommended; however, it may not always work in back-country locations and should not substitute for good judgment and preparation.  It is recommended that people who use the mountain back-country receive formal avalanche safety education and winter survival skills.