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Publications - Occasional Papers

Avalanche Hazard in Ouray County, Colorado, 1876–1976

INSTAAR Occasional Paper 24

1977, 125 pp. 32 plates. (cost: $5)

An examination of historical data relating to avalanche activity in Ouray County, Colorado, was undertaken for the period 1877–1976. Ouray County was a booming gold and silver producing area, reaching its peak in population, mineral production, and, correspondingly, avalanche deaths and destruction to property during the period 1880 to World War I.

Data were obtained from newspapers of the period and by interviews with long-time residents. Avalanche sites were plotted on USGS 1:24,000 scale maps and tabulations of avalanche frequency were developed, chronologically and by geographic location. A total of sixty-two avalanche deaths were recorded during the survey period. Of these, 50 percent occurred while the victims were in fixed positions, either in or near a building. The remaining 50 percent of deaths occurred while the victims were traveling. Thirty-three properties were struck by avalanches. Twenty-six geographic locations were plotted where deaths or burial from avalanches resulted. Case studies of the Barstow and Camp Bird mines are presented and detailed histories of these mines and their avalanche problems are given. A case study of U.S. Highway 550, from Ouray to Red Mountain Pass, is also presented, with detailed histories of two active avalanche paths affecting the highway, the Mother Cline and East Riverside.

The avalanche hazard is traced from the early mining days to the present. During the historical period, the hazard was widespread and not concentrated in any particular area, primarily because the mining operations were scattered throughout the county with diverse traffic routes. This represents a significant difference from the present-day pattern of avalanche hazard, which is mainly concentrated along Highways 550 and 361 and the Camp Bird Mine.

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