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Colorado: Avalanche warning in the San Juans

backcountry skier

The latest storm has increased the backcountry avalanche danger in the San Juans and western Colorado mountains. Bob Berwyn photo.

Natural avalanche cycle expected, with large and dangerous slides possible

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Snowfall rates of up to 1 inch per hour, strong winds and a weak base layer have upped the avalanche danger in the San Juans to the critical zone. Forecasters with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center Friday issued an avalanche warning for the northern and Southern San Juans, where large and dangerous slides are likely and travel in avalanche terrain is not recommended.

The avalanche danger is rated as high on west, northwest, north, northeast and east aspects at all elevations. The danger is considerable on southeast, south and southwest aspects at all elevations in the San Juans. The avalanche warning is in effect through Saturday morning, but the threat of slides will persist through the weekend.

By Friday morning, up to 14 inches of snow had already piled up in parts of the San Juans, with winds gusting as high as 80 mph. The biggest snow totals were reported around Red Mountain Pass, Coal Bank Pass and the Weminuche Wilderness. Continue reading

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Colorado: Backcountry avalanche danger reaches red zone

Natural avalanche cycle expected; triggered slides likely


Backcountry avalanches have been reported from the Vail Pass area.


High avalanche danger in parts of the high country, Click on the map for the interactive version on the CAIC website.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The Colorado Avalanche Information Center has issued an avalanche watch for parts of the high country, from the Steamboat/Flattops zone down through the Grand Mesa and the Aspen/Gunnison area, where dangerous avalanche conditions prevail.

Forecasters expect to see a natural cycle of small to mediu, slides during the next 24 hours, and triggered avalanches are likely in many backcountry areas. Any paths that don’t slide naturally could be prone to large avalanches in the coming days, CAIC forecaster Scott Toepfer wrote in the Tuesday morning update.

Snowfall rates in some mountain areas could reach 2 inches per hour, leading to rapid additional loading on top of a weak base layer — an ideal recipe for dangerous snow slides. Fresh storm slabs will be easily triggered by backcountry travelers, and winds will lead to the formation of brittle wind slaps on lee slopes.

More often than not, the season’s first significant storm cycle leads to avalanche accidents, as eager skiers and riders head out to sample the fresh powder — don’t become a statistic. Practice safe route-finding and stay away from steeper slopes near and above treeline, where triggered slides are almost certain.

Check the CAIC website for updated before heading into the backcountry.



Colorado: Avalanche danger ramps up with new snow, wind


There’s already a layer of unstable faceted snow crystals at the base of the snowpack, potentially setting up avalanche hazards in the backcountry. Bob Berwyn photo.

Avalanche awareness classes being offered all around the state

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO —There haven’t been any avalanche accidents yet this season in the Summit County backcountry, but avalanche control work around Loveland Pass triggered several slides that broke all the way to the ground and ran considerable distances, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

More than a foot of new snow combined with steady west-northwest winds have quickly ramped the backcountry avalanche danger up into the high end of the warning scale across most of Colorado’s northern and central mountains.

This season’s snowpack is starting out almost as poorly as last winter’s when snowslides claimed seven lives in Colorado. With skiers and riders eager to get out and sample some of the fresh powder, avy pros emphasize that education and awareness are the key to safe travel in the backcountry. Continue reading

Colorado: Storm closes I-70, avalanche warning issued

Near whiteout conditions along I-70 at the Eisenhower Tunnel Thursday at 7 a.m..

*Updated – CDOT announced the re-opening of I-70 between Denver and the high country at 10:30 a.m., with Vail Pass remaining closed for avalanche control work.

Late winter storm hits I-70 corridor and Front Range

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The storm that rolled into the area late Wednesday night has left the high country partially cut off, with dangerous avalanche conditions in the backcountry.

Both I-70 and Loveland Pass closed early Thursday morning.I-70 eastbound was closed between Vail Pass and the Eisenhower Tunnel and westbound at the C-470 junction. Check www.CoTrip.org for updates.

In Summit County, the Breckenridge Free Ride and Summit Stage told riders to expect possible delays on many routes.

A winter storm warning is in effect through 11 a.m. Thursday. Snow totals ranged between 6 to 12 inches for the north-central mountains, with lesser amounts farther north, south and west. A-Basin reported 9 inches of snow  (14 inches in the past 48 hours), with 7 inches at Winter Park and Loveland, 12 inches at Eldora, 9 inches at Echo Mountain and 5 inches at Breckenridge. Continue reading

Colorado: Skier buried, suffers broken ribs in avalanche near Vail; ‘considerable’ slide danger persists in the backcountry

A slabby and fragile snowpack prevails in much of the Colorado backcountry. PHOTO COURTESY CAIC.

Triggered slides remain likely near and above treeline

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Considerable avalanche danger persists in the Colorado backcountry, where a skier this week was completely buried and suffered six broken ribs and a collapsed lung in a slide near Vail.

Forecasters with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center said the skier triggered the soft slab by jumping off a cliff on a north aspect hear Mushroom Bowl. His partners were able to uncover him from the slide that broke about 30 inches deep, 100 feet wide and ran about 380 vertical feet.

Another skier triggered yet another slide nearby while CAIC experts were on-site investigating the first avalanche. In the Tenmile Range, another slide was triggered by a falling cornice, illustrating the continued potential for natural slides. More information at the CAIC accidents web page.

With the backcountry avalanche danger rated as “considerable” triggered releases are still likely in many areas, specifically on northwest through south aspects near and above treeline.

Up to 12 inches of snow fell across much of the Vail-Summit zone fell since Monday, adding stress to a slabby snowpack riddled with weak layers. Check the CAIC forecast before heading into the backcountry.

Colorado: Backcountry avalanche watch issued

Snow Thursday night could set off another natural avalanche cycle

Parts of the Colorado mountains are under an avalanche watch. Click for more info.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A round of forecast snow — perhaps 4 to 10 inches Thursday night — could unleash another cycle of dangerous, naturally running backcountry avalanches, Colorado snow safety experts said, issuing an avalanche watch that covers the Front Range and mountains to the west from Fairplay up to Steamboat Springs.

Four people have died in avalanches this season, including two at ski areas. Get the latest backcountry update at the Colorado Avalanche Information Center website.

An avalanche watch means that, if the weather forecast is accurate, the avalanche danger will rise to high in the watch area, with both natural and triggered slides likely. The watch is in effect through 11 a.m. Friday. A high danger rating means very dangerous backcountry avalanche conditions, and travel in avalanche terrain is not recommended. Specifically, the warning covers the Park Elkhead, Flattop, Front, Gore and Tenmile ranges. Continue reading

Colorado: Avalanche danger rises in the backcountry

Triggered avalanches are likely on many slopes in the Colorado backcountry.

Triggered slides likely on many slopes

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Snowfall and wind have combined to push the backcountry snowpack in Colorado to the tipping point, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, where forecasters issued an avalanche advisory valid through 10 a.m. Tuesday morning.

Across much of the state, the avalanche danger is rated as considerable, with natural avalanches possible and triggered avalanches likely on many steep slopes, including below treeline. Backcountry travelers will also see remotely triggered slides and experience signs of instability, including cracks and collapsing slabs. It will be possible to trigger avalanches from lower-angle slopes well below the starting zones. Continue reading

Colorado: Experts warn of dangerous snow and mudslides

A high voltage powerline tower was mangled by an April 30 avalanche in Peru Creek, Colorado. Click for more photos. PHOTO COURTESY THE COLORADO AVALANCHE INFORMATION CENTER.

Big snowpack, rapid warmup could trigger major avalanche cycle

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Powerful avalanches recently tore through 100-year-old trees near Peru Creek and toppled high-voltage powerline towers that were built in the 1970s, and forecasters with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center warn that more large slides are possible during the next few days and weeks.

The super-size snowpack in Colorado’s northern and central mountains could threaten recreational backcountry travelers as well government and private industry workers in the field, said CAIC director Ethan Greene, explaining workers clearing county roads, railroad and utility workers, as well as backcountry skiers and snowmobilers all could be at risk. Click here to see the latest CAIC discussion on weather and snowpack.

The forecaster center isn’t predicting specific slides for specific areas. Instead, Greene said the forecasters wanted to give a gentle heads-up about a spring avalanche scenario that’s unprecedented in recent years. Green said there are also areas near mountain communities where homes and other structures could be threatened. Continue reading

Krane: Avalanche dragon can still bite in the spring

Timing is everything when you’re planning those Big Lines

Just before the start of Andy Lapkass' presentation on spring and summer skiing, I pulled over on Boreas Pass. Peak 6 was just 'smokin' with 50-60 mph wind-driven snow and graupel-we've had 50" in the last week. PHOTO BY MATT KRANE.

Breckenridge Ski Patrol avalanche technician and veteran 8,000 meter mountain guide Andy Lapkass addresses close to 100 people about recognizing free water in the spring snowpack-when it's probably safe to ski and when to hold off or find other aspects. MATT KRANE PHOTO.

Editor’s note: Matt Krane is a ski patroller at Breckenridge Ski Area

By Matt Krane

More than a dozen years ago, a party of four skilled backcountry skiers — one of them, a paramedic with a cell phone —set out to ski the popular north couloir on Buffalo Mountain, just west of Silverthorne.

It was early to mid April if I remember correctly. Six to eight inches of snow overnight turned the upper snowfield glistening white. However, springtime on the calendar does not always correspond to ‘springtime’ in the snowpack. After the upper snowfield broke loose, shallow as the slab was, the avalanche ‘freight-trained’ through the steep narrow couloir (well over 1,000 vertical), killing one person and partially burying and critically injuring a second. The paramedic survived and was able to call the Flight for Life helicopter to the base of the mountain.

Earlier this week, The Breckenridge Ski Patrol hosted its second open house, drawing a crowd of close to 100 at The Maggie, focusing on the transition of snow from the winter snowpack to spring, as well as safe travel in the backcountry. Veteran Himalayan guide and Breckenridge avalanche technician Andy Lapkass gave a captivating presentation about the warming snowpack and the snow metamorphosis that can lead to fantastic steep lines in corn snow, but also to deadly avalanche conditions ‘if you happen to be the impatient type’. Continue reading

Backcountry: Spring avalanche danger spiking

Wet snow slides likely near and below treeline

A wet snow slide in the Tenmile Range near Breckenridge.

SUMMIT COUNTY — A couple of large, skier triggered slides in the Tenmile Range show that spring-like weather will lead to a spike in the backcountry avalanche danger.

With overnight lows barely dipping below freezing in many areas, the snowpack on steeper, sunny slopes will become more unstable, with a good chance of wet snow slides, especially below rock bands and cliffs as the day progresses.

Overall, conditions are “a go” for backcountry activities, but timing and route selection are key to safe travel, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center said in its Saturday morning bulletin, rating the avalanche hazard as considerable on all slopes near and below treeline because of the potential for wet snow slides. At higher elevations, the danger is rated as moderate. A “considerable” rating means both natural and triggered avalanches are likely. Continue reading


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