After a weekend avalanche that killed five skiers and snowboarders near Loveland Pass -- and more snow hitting the mountains now -- avalanche safety officials are reminding backcountry enthusiasts to take precautions when enjoying Colorado's mountains.
Colorado Avalanche Information Center director Ethan Greene said current conditions are more like a typical February than April.
Heavy snow and gusting winds have increased avalanche danger in the Central Rockies this month, when snowpack is usually getting more stable and safer for backcountry activity.
In mid-winter, Greene said forecasters see avalanche cycles driven by snowstorms, which can cause instability for days or weeks. In the spring, avalanche danger rises and falls during each day as the sun rises, heats the snow and then sets.
"We're dealing with February snowpack, (which is) persistent weakness in the snowpack, structural weakness," Greene said. "The potential for more avalanches like that is still out there. People shouldn't be relying on thinking that it's spring conditions and any assumptions that go along with that. "
Greene referenced Saturday's Loveland Pass avalanche, the state's deadliest in 50 years, and another, which took place last Thursday near Vail Pass and killed one snowboarder. The total number of Colorado avalanche deaths for the 2012-2013 season is now 11.
Both fatal accidents occurred on north-facing slopes, he said. Greene advised that the most dangerous slopes right now are north-facing, followed by east-facing and southeast-facing slopes. Near and above the treeline is also more dangerous, Greene said.
The center never tries to prevent people from skiing, riding or having fun in the backcountry, Green said. Rather, the center asks backcountry enthusiasts to follow these three steps before heading out for the day:
Check current avalanche conditions. Visit https://avalanche.state.co.us/ or call 303-275-5360.
Bring rescue equipment, first aid gear and wear proper clothing in the backcountry.
Get educated. Take an avalanche safety course, learn how to use avalanche rescue equipment and learn how to do a stability test in the snow.
"Our approach is that people should make informed decisions," Greene said. "There's always risks out there, sometimes bigger than others. People need to make sure they have the ability and both information and education so they understand the risks they're taking and know how to reduce the risks or avoid them. Have a good time, but take calculated and informed risks."
--Follow Sarah Kuta on Twitter: @SarahKuta.