A visual diagnosis of the deadly Dec. 5 avalanche in Dry Gulch, near the Eisenhower Tunnel. PHOTO COURTESY CAIC, TEXT ADDED BY CAIC FORECASTER SCOTT TOEPFER. Click on the image for a larger view.
Risk of triggered avalanches high across the Colorado mountains
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — New snow in the Colorado mountains is great news for skiers and ski resorts, but the storm has also increase the risk of backcountry avalanches. Several highways, including US 50 over Monarch Pass, US 6 over Loveland Pass and US 160 over Wolf Creek Pass have have been closed intermittently for avalanche control work and the Colorado Avalanche Information Center issued avalanche warnings and watches for most of the high country.
According to an avalanche warning for the South San Juans, including the Wolf Creek Pass area, both natural and triggered snow slides are likely. Backcountry travel is not recommended on or under steep snow-covered slopes. A similar warning is in effect for the Gunnison zone, including the backcountry around Crested Butte, where storm totals have reached 50 inches around Gothic, Irwin and Schofield Pass.
The snow that’s fallen in the past few days is wet and heavy and could cause the snowpack to fail near the ground, creating large and dangerous avalanches. Gusty winds from the west and southwest have built windslabs that could easily be triggered by a skier, snowboarder or snowmobile, and some of those slides could step down into the weak layers of cohesionless, faceted grains now buried deep in the snowpack.
Several avalanches reported about a week ago point to the instabilities at the base of the snowpack. Read about the recent slides here.
The CAIC has also posted a detailed report on the fatal avalanche in Dry Gulch, east of the Eisenhower Tunnel, describing how the hard slab on the steep slope broke into refrigerator-sized blocks before burying a backcountry skier under two to three feet of heavy snow. The skier was wearing an Avalung survival pack that was stripped from his shoulders by the force of the slide.
So far this winter there have been four avalanche fatalities in the U.S. A climber in Washington was killed Dec. 4, just a day before the fatal Dry Creek slide.
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