John Snook’s workday stars when he turns on his beacon, clicks his SCARPAs into his bindings and begins to skin uphill. By the time he gets back to his truck he’ll have climbed Morgan peak, skied down the 2,000-foot-long couloir on the other side, and gathered data that could potentially save lives.
Backcountry skiing is technically Snook’s job. He is a forecaster for Colorado Avalanche Information Center. A few days a week he is in the office in Boulder, but most days are like today—he’s out on his skis, looking at the snow and trying to predict the potential for avalanches.
Avalanches kill an average of 25 people a year and that number is rising, Snook says. Last year the tally was particularly high. 36 people died in slides throughout the United States. Eight of those deaths were in Colorado, which, because of snow conditions, is the state with the highest fatality rate. That’s why Snook’s job as a forecaster is important. It’s his responsibility to know how, where and when avalanches can happen, as well as why they do happen, so that they can be avoided. “We don’t judge people for getting into avalanches,” Snook says. “We just try to provide information so that they can make smart decisions.”