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Incoming storm prompts avalanche, travel warnings

A NOAA weather satellite image shows a strong snowstorm headed for the Rocky Mountains.

A NOAA weather satellite image shows a strong snowstorm headed for the Rocky Mountains.

CAIC forecasters highlight ‘very real and rapidly increasing avalanche danger’

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A developing winter storm has prompted the season’s first avalanche warning in the Colorado high county. With up to 12 inches of snow expected across the higher terrain, forecasters with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center say extra caution is required for backcountry travel this weekend.

“Don’t let the fresh snow blind you to the very real and rapidly increasing avalanche danger,” the CAIC posted on its website. The heaviest snow is expected Saturday afternoon and Saturday night and the thin and brittle early season snowpack likely won’t be able to support the fresh snow, especially in wind-loaded areas. Continue reading

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Colorado: Report says deadly Loveland Pass slide went unnoticed for several hours

State report concludes the April 20 avalanche accident that killed five people was avoidable

Looking east along the crown line of an April 20 avalanche that killed five men in the Sheep Creek drainage

Looking east along the crown line of an April 20 avalanche that killed five men in the Sheep Creek drainage near Loveland Pass, Colorado. Photo courtesy CAIC.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — It’s April in Colorado and heavy snow is falling on the mountains of the Continental Divide, where a high-spirited group of mountain enthusiasts gather to plan a short backcountry tour, envisioning dreamy, floating turns and faceshots on the slopes of Mt. Sniktau, a mountain along the Continental Divide between Loveland Ski Area and Arapahoe Basin where planners once hoped to create an Olympic ski arena.

Well equipped and versed in backcountry travel, the six men head up Loveland Pass, a Mecca for Colorado backcountry skiers since the early days of the sport. At Scotty’s Corner, the last hairpin before the crest, the men headed east across the face of the 13,234-foot peak, aiming for northwest facing slopes on the far side of a broad gully that splits the face of the peak, according to an April 24 report from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

Recognizing the potential danger of avalanches, the group identifies what they thought was a safe zone near a cluster of trees on a knoll on the far side of the drainage. They discuss the avalanche danger again, agreeing to spread out as they crossed the slope. But they aren’t cautious enough, given the magnitude of the slide they ultimately trigger at about 10:15 a.m. Continue reading

Colorado: Spring storm packs a punch

Resorts reporting powder conditions, but road conditions could hamper access, while the backcountry avalanche danger soars

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An active northern jet stream is bringing cold air and moisture to the northern tier of states, including Colorado. On and off snow is possible through the weekend.

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The CAIC is reporting numerous backcountry avalanches. Click here for more photos.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — March is living up to its reputation as the snowiest month in the Colorado high country, with chilly spring storm snarling roads, intensifying avalanche danger and adding much-needed moisture to the state’s snowpack.

Ski areas around the state are generally reporting up to 12 inches of new snow in the past few days, and moderate to heavy snow continued falling Saturday morning. Some of the heaviest totals are expected east of the Continental Divide, where the California Department of Transportation reported bumper-to-bumper traffic around I-70 and C-470.

East of Denver, I-70 was closed to the Kansas border, and slick conditions on the westbound approach to the mountains prompted CDOT to require chains, snow tires or four-wheel drive for all vehicles in Mt. Vernon Canyon, just west of Denver.

Continue reading

Colorado: Storm rolling in …

Forecaster still uncertain for high country snow totals

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A big Pacific trough is working its way inland, bringing snow to much of Colorado.

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By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A winter storm rolling out of the Four Corners toward Colorado is billed as having the potential to drop several feet of snow in parts of the state, but even late Friday night, forecast models were still not in complete agreement as to where the heaviest snow will fall Saturday through Sunday.

National Weather Service forecasters have issues winter storm watches and warnings, as well as blizzard watches for almost the entire state, but the Denver-based forecasters warned that, “Summit County could very well get sheltered again in this Front Range storm.” The forecasters also said the upper low might eject farther south than previously anticipated, which would push the heavier snow amounts farther south. Click here for the latest updates and links to all the warnings. Continue reading

Backcountry: Four avalanche deaths since March 1

Slide8New snow brings spike in avalanche danger

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Avalanches have killed four people since March 1, including a snowboarder near Cameron Pass (west of Fort Collins, March 2), a snowmobiler in Utah and a climber on Mountain Washington, in New Hampshire.

The latest Colorado avalanche was a monster, breaking up to six feet deep in places. The slide was estimated at 1,200 feet wide and broke trees as it crashed down the mountain. A second person was injured in the slide and evacuated from the scene by helicopter, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. Continue reading

Colorado skiers warned about rope-ducking risks

Sketchy snowpack makes Summit County sheriff, resorts edgy

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A large Feb. 25 avalanche near Francie’s Cabin. Some of the hard debris chunks were 4-5 feet thick. Photo courtesy Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — A sketchy snowpack and a series of avalanches in and near ski areas has prompted a joint warning on rope-ducking from Summit County Sheriff John Minor and local resorts.

Ducking a rope is also against the law as the part of the Colorado the Ski Safety Act of 1979.  “You can face charges for this,” Minor said. “Don’t be naïve about the risk you’re taking, and don’t put others in danger because of your bad decisions.”

In one recent accident, a snowboarder ducked a rope at Keystone within sight of numerous people and broke through a cornice that triggered a slide. The man was caught and issued a summons by the Summit County Sheriff’s Office for skiing in a closed area. Continue reading

A-Basin’s Beacon Bowl coming up this weekend

A contestant in the 2012 Beacon Bowl at A-Basin zeroes in on a buried beacon.

A contestant in the 2012 Beacon Bowl at A-Basin zeroes in on a buried beacon.

In it’s 11th year, the popular A-Basin event morphs into a two-day rescue clinic; proceeds benefit the CAIC

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The two most recent avalanche deaths in Colorado show the continued need for avalanche education and rescue training in the state that historically tallies the majority of accidents each season.

Both deaths occurred in remote areas, where the skiers had to rely on their own rescue skills to try and recover buried victims. In those situations, speedy location, recovery and timely first-aid can make the difference between life and death.

One of the best ways to prepare for the almost unthinkable is to practice rescues in the field, simulating a real-life rescue scenario, and this weekend, Arapahoe Basin and the Colorado Avalanche Information Center offer a chance to do just that with the annual rescue clinic, which has morphed into a two-day event (Feb. 8-9) from the traditional Beacon Bowl. Continue reading

Colorado: Avalanche warning in the San Juans

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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

Colorado: Ski patroller dies in avalanche at Snowmass

Colorado far exceeds any other state in the number of reported avalanche fatalities since 1950. Graph courtesy CAIC.

Colorado far exceeds any other state in the number of reported avalanche fatalities since 1950. Graph courtesy Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

Three deaths reported across the country so far this season

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The Colorado Avalanche Information Center is reporting the first avalanche death of the 2012-2013 winter occurred Sunday, Dec. 30 at Snowmass.

According to the preliminary report, the 49-year-old female ski patroller was skiing alone in a permanently closed area called the Ship’s Prow Glades, in the Hanging Valley Area. The woman’s name is being withheld pending notification of family. Continue reading

Colorado: Winter weather and wind warnings hoisted

‘A swift river of moist Pacific air …’

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Pacific moisture and Arctic cold are headed for Colorado.

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State snowpack could use a boost.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — National Weather Service forecasters generally don’t wax poetic in their forecasts, but the latest update from the Denver-Boulder office includes phrases that will ring musically in the ears of snow-starved Colorado skiers and water managers.

In short, it’s going to be cold, snowy and windy — conditions we haven’t seen in the high country for about nine months, since sometime last February. Ahead of the storm, forecasters have issued a high wind warning for Summit County and the northern Front Range for 11 p.m. Friday through 5 p.m. Saturday evening. Winds of 50 to 60 mph are expected, with near-hurricane force gusts up to 80 mph possible after midnight. Continue reading

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