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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

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