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Much desired snowfall is driving crowds to western Washington's mountains, but recent avalanches have experts sounding the alarm.

It's high density at the bottom, then it gets lower density, then all of a sudden on top, you have a bunch of really heavy stuff, said backcountry guide Martin Volken.

Volken owns Pro Guiding Service in Snoqualmie Pass. He regularly guides backcountry trips in western Washington, and he's learned to read the snow's secrets.

Snow right here, as you can tell, is very saturated, he pointed out. There's a lot of water in it.

Volken calls it upside down snow . Erratic temperatures and low snowfall at the season's outset have made this year's snow particularly unstable and dangerous.

A few people are gonna get caught, Volken said.

It's the dark side of a mountain.

Our mantra, 'Living to ski another day,' is the biggest part, explained Tim Tietjen.

Tietjen's company, TheSnowTroopers.Com films backcountry ski conditions, almost daily posting online snow reports for a growing audience.

He tested the sidecountry for KING5 on Wednesday afternoon.

Challenging, I like to call them 'testy', off of the groomers, he said. Everybody's getting into the back country faster than they ever have before.

But Tietjen and Volken both believe the popularity of backcountry snow sports has gained speed faster than education.

For the longest time was sort of like a fringe element of the ski industry, Volken said. Most of the avalanche incidents can be avoided.

Volken calls that the human factor mixed with the snow's secret, deep within its layers. He teaches clients to spot the early signs.

Lots of snow coming down, lots of wind. Rapidly rising temperatures, Volken explained.

Volken always carries three life-saving, yet simple, devices: an avalanche probe, a beacon, and a shovel.

Locate the victim...transmitting the signal, he explained, to dig that person out.

Volken's dug out 2 people from an avalanche, both during his training 25 years ago.

Only one survived.

It's a beautiful sport but it can go from very fun to very serious, very quickly, he said.

For more information visit:

The Northwest Avalanche Center at http://www.nwac.us/

Pro Guiding Services at http://www.proguiding.com/

The Snow Troopers at http://thesnowtroopers.com/

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