It's already starting: On Nov. 26, not even winter, a snowmobiler from North Dakota died in an avalanche near Cooke City, Montana - marking the first avalanche death of the 2014-15 snow season in the United States. He was 31.
Avalanche training isn't cheap - $300 to $400 and up for the first tier of a three-level course. And it isn't readily convenient either, but a group of local advocates has set out to change that with a scholarship fund.
When two young Durango men, Peter Carver and Joe Philpott, were killed in separate avalanches just months apart while skiing in early 2013 - followed by more tragedies and near misses locally, around the state and nation - an idea gave rise to help people access the proper training and education they need to safely navigate avalanche terrain.
"Our goal is a broad recognition for the need for avalanche awareness and education," said Miles Venzara, co-founder of the Joe Philpott and Peter Carver Avalanche Scholarship Fund and part owner of Pine Needle Mountaineering in Durango. "It's empowering people to make good decisions in the mountains."
In Colorado, especially in the southwestern corner, ski areas are off to a bony start, but the magical backcountry kingdom is luring mountain travelers. Skiers and snowboarders, snowmobilers and climbers - all are drawn to its beck and call.
Colorado leads the nation in avalanche deaths every year, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. While snowmobilers get hit hardest nationwide, skiers and climbers follow. Anyone in the mountains is endangered; no one is immune.
The scholarships, for which the deadline is Friday, are available to all members of Friends of the San Juans, a nonprofit grass-roots organization that has recently began providing basic avalanche awareness education in Durango and Pagosa Springs. Applicants must submit a short essay on why they should receive the scholarship and how they would pass their knowledge to others.
They must also volunteer for Friends of the San Juans and provide two references to promote their candidacy. Recipients will be announced at the upcoming CAIC fundraiser, Dec. 10, at the Powerhouse Science Center.
"Anybody can get it," Venzara said. "We just want them to take that knowledge and then share it with other people - to put it in someone's hands, so they can put it in someone else's hands."
Bill Carver, Peter's father, and board member of Friends of the San Juans, said the backcountry is an unforgiving place, and knowledge lends to a better understanding the silent language of mountains.
"You're not in Disneyland," he said.
Carver said he and his son received professional avalanche training, and his son was a seasoned backcountry traveler.
"His competency was there," he said. "But it still wasn't enough. The choice is to go or not go. It takes a lot to make an educated decision. Your going out in to the mountains, and mountains can speak back. People get hurt and killed, as we all know."
On the peaks and slopes of the Rocky Mountains, weather events are wildly erratic and unpredictable. The mountains remain the same. It's the landscape of snow that is ever changing in winter.
Carver urged people to find appropriate training.
"That's why I got involved, to keep our backcountry skiers as safe as we can," he said.