Outdoor Safety: Avalanche and Winter Safety

Observation of the first avalanche of the 2015 season on the northeast aspect of Agassiz Peak

Photo: Observation of the first avalanche of the 2015 season on the northeast aspect of Agassiz Peak of the San Francisco Peaks. Photo courtesy of the Kachina Peak Avalanche Center.


The high country of the Coconino National Forest around Flagstaff, Arizona and Mogollon Rim Country is a high elevation zone on the Colorado Plateau. Elevations above the Mogollon Rim in this region of the Forest are around typically around 7,000', rising to nearly 13,000' at Humphreys Peak, and 9,000' or more in the surrounding cinder hills.

We get winter here. Snowfalls average over 100" per year, allowing the Forest to support skiing and snowplay facilities. While most people enjoy winter sports and play at one of these facilities, many trek out into the Forest on cross-country skis, snowshoes, or snowmobiles. Wonderful adventure awaits in the winter wonderland of Flagstaff and Rim Country... and so does danger. Freezing temperatures, avalanches, and trecherous terrain are just a few of the hazards that await you. It is critically important that you are well prepared before venturing off the beaten path and away from civilization.

When you travel into the Forest away from managed recreation facilities, you are on your own.

You may find yourself in an area without cell phone service. If you can call for help, it could take hours for help to get to your location. There are no ski patrols outside the managed recreation area boundaries. Planning in advance, knowing how to stay safe, dressing appropriately, carrying the right gear, and being prepared for an emergency could make the difference between life and death.


General Winter Safety Tips


Know before you go


Be prepared

  • Tell someone who cares about your welfare where you are going. Let at least one family member, friend, or coworker know where you are going and what your plan is.
  • Buddy system! Never go alone.
  • Get a backcountry permit if you're heading into the Kachina Peaks Wilderness.
  • Carry the right gear.
    • Ten Essentials
      • Water
      • Food
      • Extra warm clothing
      • Map, compass, and GPS (do NOT depend solely on your GPS or phone - electronics fail!)
      • Headlamp and/or flashlight
      • First aid kit
      • Shelter, tarp, or emergency blanket
      • Matches and a fire kit
      • Knife, multi-tool, and tape
      • Whistle and signal mirror
    • Three more essentials for the San Francisco Peaks
      • Shovel
      • Avalanche beacon/transceiver
      • Avalanche probe pole


Avalanche Safety

There are 75 major avalanche zones on the San Francisco Peaks. It is absolutely critical you know how to avoid getting caught in an avalanche and how to rescue yourself if you do get caught.


Avalanche Awareness in the Kachina Peaks Wilderness

Students at Northern Arizona University in Professor Martha Lee's Wilderness Management class created this video as part of a larger class project. The project was undertaken in close cooperation with US Forest Service personnel and designed to improve the information available to Wilderness users.






Related Information

Winter Recreation Map and Information: Winter recreation information and maps for the Coconino National Forest



Back to Outdoor Safety and Ethics


Featured Events