This image shows where a backcountry skier triggered a large avalanche on a northwest facing slope near treeline at about 12,000 feet in the Pitkin Creek area. Photo: Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

This image shows where a backcountry skier triggered a large avalanche on a northwest facing slope near treeline at about 12,000 feet in the Pitkin Creek area. Photo: Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

A tree, quick thinking, and a strong grip likely saved a skier from serious consequences over the weekend when a large avalanche slid down part of Colorado's Gore mountain range.

On Sunday, a skier triggered a large avalanche at an elevation of about 12,000 feet along the Gore Range and in the area of Pitkin Creek – located in the Vail and Summit County backcountry zone. After triggering the avalanche, the skier was able to grab onto a tree to avoid being swept down to the valley floor. Had the individual been swept away, they would likely have been dragged hundreds of feet (potentially more than 1,000 feet) down steep, high-consequence terrain.

The avalanche happened during a period with a "low" avalanche risk rating – a one of five on the risk scale. This exemplifies how a dangerous slide can occur amid seemingly safer conditions.

The first large human-triggered avalanche to take place in Colorado since Jan. 12, this slide was classified as a 'persistent slab' avalanche, which basically means that it was the result of a weaker and more fragile layer of older snow breaking beneath a top layer. Rated as a R2–D2.5 slide, this avalanche was powerful enough to kill a person and may have been strong enough to damage some trees.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center noted, "'LOW does not mean NO.' Slides are just infrequent."

Three avalanche deaths have occurred in Colorado so far this winter season, including one skier death on Dec. 24 and two snowshoer deaths in January.

Throughout the entire snow season, it's crucial for those entering the backcountry to check forecasted avalanche risk, first. It's also important to let someone know where you're headed and when you'll be back.

Find more information about avalanche safety on the Colorado Avalanche Information Center website.

Spencer McKee is OutThere Colorado's Director of Content and Operations, often found reporting on outdoor recreation news. In his spare time, Spencer loves to hike, rock climb, and trail run. Find him on Twitter at @spencemckee

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