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Colorado: Backcountry skier dies in San Juan avalanche

Spring conditions lead to large wet snow slides

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Upper Paradise Basin slide. PHOTO COURTESY COLORADO AVALANCHE INFORMATION CENTER.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The Colorado Avalanche Information Center is reporting the seventh avalanche death of the 2011-2012 season, as a backcountry skier was caught and killed in wet snow slide near Ophir Pass in the San Juans.

The accident occurred March 30 on an east-southeast aspect high above treeline in a well-known slide path. According to preliminary reports, the slide fractured about 24-inches deep and 550-feet across, and ran down a steep gully for almost 2,000 feet in an area known as Upper Paradise Basin.

CAIC investigators said they will visit the site Saturday to compile a full report. The preliminary report says the slide happened at about 4 p.m.

Wet snow avalanches frequently run in the spring during warm cycles in the weather, as melted snow percolates through the snowpack, lubricating harder layers below the surface.

Overall, the avalanche danger in the North San Juans was rated as moderate for the day, with a warning that the snowpack was susceptible to rapid destabilization in the afternoon under the influence of warm temps and sunshine. As well, a layer of dust on the snow was expected to speed melting.

From the March 30 conditions report:

“Deep persistent weak layers remain a concern on shady, high elevation steep slopes facing northwest through north to east. These deep slabs are difficult to initiate, but if you trigger an avalanche, it would be large and destructive.”

 

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