How meteorologists in the deadliest state for avalanches keep Americans safe

Avalanches are the deadliest weather event in Colorado. They often occur when fresh new snow falls on top of an already compacted snow base. That newer snow becomes unstable, triggering an avalanche.

COPPER MOUNTAIN, Colo. – Colorado is synonymous with avalanches. And while the state prides itself on its 2022 NHL Stanley Cup champions, the Colorado Avalanche, officials worry about a different type that lies within the mountains.

Avalanches can be a terrifying force of nature, and Colorado is the most dangerous state for them, with over 5,000 happening every year. 

From 1951 to 2021, 305 people died due to avalanches in Colorado, nearly double the next closest state, according to Statista

"On average, six people die each year in Colorado in avalanches, which makes them the most deadly weather-related natural hazard in the state," Avalanche Information Center Director Ethan Greene told FOX Weather. 

Do avalanches hit roads? 

While most deaths occur in the backcountry, avalanches also pose a big threat to Colorado’s roads. 

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center and the Colorado Department of Transportation work together to forecast where avalanches will likely happen next and how they could impact a road or highway. 


"There are over 500 avalanche paths that threaten the state transportation system," said Greene. "We can look at the terrain characteristics and really separate out places where avalanches are going to happen and then places where they’re going to happen, and they’re going to threaten the roads." 

If forecasters determine that an avalanche might strike a road, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center works with CDOT to shut the road down when necessary and clear the hazard. 

"Where we set off avalanches with some types of explosives, and then prepare the roadway and open it back up for the public," Greene said.  

One of those roads is known as the "Million Dollar Highway" and is one of the most dangerous roads in America

The road, officially known as U.S. Route 550, was shut down last week for high avalanche risk along Red Mountain Pass.

How many avalanches have there been in Colorado this season?

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center says there have been more than 700 avalanches so far this season in Colorado.

On Saturday, one person was killed by an avalanche just outside a ski resort.