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Colorado: Freshies, and backcountry avy warning

Backcountry travel not recommended in avy terrain

Buffalo Mountain looks good with a fresh coat of white.

SUMMIT COUNTY — Ski resorts rejoiced in an overnight storm that dumped 11 inches at Vail, 9 inches at Copper Mountain and similar amounts at most resorts in the northern and central part of the state. Get the full snow report from Colorado Ski Country USA.

Some roads remained icy and snowpacked Friday morning, but Loveland Pass was the only reported closure, and Highway 6 should re-open once crews have controlled the avalanche hazard.

In the backcountry, an avalanche warning is in effect through 12 p.m. Saturday, Jan, 28, as forecasters warn of dangerous conditions, with both natural and triggered snow slides likely on many slopes.

The storm added anywhere from .5 to .75 inches of snow-water equivalent in a 12-hour period. Combined with strong winds and a weak base layer, all the ingredients are in place for another round of dangerous avalanches. Only the South San Juans and the Grand Mesa zones are excluded from the warning, but even in those areas, the hazard is rated as considerable.

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Colorado: Close calls with backcountry avalanches

Avalanche season far from over; spring snowfall, temperature changes add to hazard for wet snow slides

Spring snow keeps piling up in Colorado.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Just a day after the Breckenridge ski patrol held a well-attended open house to give backcountry skiers some useful info on the transitioning snowpack, a skier and snowboarder attempting a steep line in the sidecountry near Arapahoe Basin had a close call with the spring avalanche dragon, triggering a dangerous slide in an area known informally as the Devil’s Tool, near the Noname Drainage off Highway 6 near Arapahoe Basin Colorado. There’s a brief description here; the CAIC will post a full report here.

According to the CAIC, the skier suffered a broken leg in the slide. The snowboarder was buried for about 30 minutes but was able to survive thanks to a small air pocket near his face. The avalanche occurred on a sunny south-to-southwest-facing slope near treeline in terrain that had been pegged with a considerable avalanche danger rating the past few days (the “considerable” rating means there a high likelihood of triggered avalanches, along with the potential for natural releases.

The rating remained the moderate to considerable zone for the start of the weekend, with continued potential for wet snow slides on east to south through northwest aspects. The snowpack will become even more reactive Saturday afternoon with rapidly increasing temperatures adding melting water to the mix. Continue reading

Summit County: Skier carried 100 feet in slide near Keystone

Wilderness Sports sponsors the Summit Voice weatherblog. Click to visit Wilderness Sports online.

Avalanche in the backcountry near Loveland Pass, Colorado.

A small soft-slab avalanche in some very popular backcountry ski terrain off Loveland Pass.

Early snow, typical Colorado snowpack contribute to potential backcountry avalanche hazards

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Several triggered avalanches have been reported from around the local mountains in the past few days, including a hard slab that carried a skier down about 100 feet in the backcountry near Keystone, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

Observers at the scene said the slide occurred at about 12,000 feet on a north-facing slope, and a close look at the fracture line showed six distinct layers, with the slide running on faceted crystals near the base of the snowpack. A typical early season snowpack has lead to widespread formation of large sugary crystals that don’t bond well with each other or adjacent layers of snow. Continue reading

Weatherblog: Fresh snow, slides in the backcountry

A patchy storm centered over Idaho may affect Summit County weather later in the week.

Warm-up will lead to wet snow avalanches the next few days; dust layers tabbed as weak layers

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Another dose of fresh snow Monday morning at A-Basin, with three inches reported atop a couple of feet that have fallen in the past week.

The wet and windy weather led to an avalanche cycle in the Colorado mountains over the weekend, with the most serious incident high on the slopes of Tenmile Peak, where a snowboarder was caught and injured in a wet snow slide.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center also reported both natural and triggered avalanches from Loveland Pass, Cameron Pass, Rocky Mountain National Park, the Vail backcountry and the Steamboat area in recent days. Continue reading

Survive the slide: Avy airbag demo at Wilderness Sports

A demo deployment of the BCA avalanche floatation device is set for about 7 p.m., Feb. 16 at Wilderness Sports in Dillon.

Backpack-based floatation device has a high success rate in Europe for preventing deadly avalanche burials; demo set for 7 p.m., Feb. 16 at Wilderness Sports in Dillon, along with a free presentation on Euro mountaineering

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — As avalanche burial statistics from the past 10 years paint a grim picture of survival chances, some backcountry enthusiasts are looking beyond beacons, shovels and probes for additional safety measures that may increase the odds for survival in the worst-case scenario.

The stats show that, even if you’re wearing a beacon, chances are, your companions may have a hard time pinpointing the signal and digging you out in time.

The best option, of course, is to not get buried in the first place by learning to recognize and avoid avalanche terrain, and by knowing how to test the stability of the snow.

If you do get buried, you may be able to survive until rescue comes if you’re wearing an Avalung, which has, in some cases, helped buried victims breathe much long than they could in normal circumstances. Read a transcript of a 2002 interview with a backcountry skier who used an Avalung to survive 20 to 30 minutes buried under 3 to 4 feet of snow here. A more recent account, involving a 2009 burial near a backcountry hut in Colorado, is online here.

Continue reading

New snow leads to close call on the Professor

A pair of tracks leads out of a snow slide on the Professor, a popular backcountry ski run and known avalanche path at Loveland Pass, Colorado. A-Basin ski patrollers said the slide was triggered by skiers. It ran about 900 feet long. Click on the image for a larger view.

New snow and wind combined to form tender soft slabs around the Summit County backcountry, as a pair of riders found out on the Professor, a popular sidecountry ski run and known avalanche path between Loveland Pass and Arapahoe Basin.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center  warned of considerable avalanche danger on north to east to southwest aspects, with pockets of high danger  on steep wind-loaded slopes facing northeast through southwest near and above treeline. Both triggered and natural slides are likely in these areas.

The CAIC reported natural soft slab avalanches reported from the northern Sawatch and Ten Mile ranges, with observers reporting a reactive snowpack with very clean breaks. The largest avalanche reported was triggered with explosives and was more than 2 feet deep, 450 feet wide and ran 1,000 feet down a southeast facing slope. There was also a human triggered avalanche in the East Vail area on a northeast facing slope at about 10,800 feet.

Most of the people who died in snow slides the past 10 years were wearing beacons and many of them had at least some training in avalanche safety procedures, according to Dale Atkins, who recently analyzed avalanche fatalities between 1999 and 2009 and compiled the results in a paper that paints a vivid statistical portrait of recent trends. Read a related story on the research here. More A-Basin photos after the break.  Continue reading

Weather: Upslope, with some overflow love for Summit?

Some upslope action on Super Bowl Sunday, Front Range favored

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Another dusting of snow overnight but no big accumulations around the Summit-Vail area for now. The next in a series of El Niño-fueled storms in tracking to the south of the area and will set up east of the mountains in what could be a major upslope storm, with widespread snow along the foothills and the Denver metro area. Some of the ski areas east of the Continental Divide like Winter Park and Eldora could see the most snow.

There should be enough moisture wrapping around the low to fuel at least a few showers in our area, and the Boulder National Weather Service is actually calling for widespread snow across the mountain region.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center forecasters won’t preclude the possibility of snow in the Vail-Summit zone, but point out that, in general, east winds tend to skunk areas west of the Continental Divide.

The backcountry avalanche danger is still rated as considerable. Smaller amounts of snowfall the last few days have added up to between 5 and 8 inches across parts of the zone — plenty of snow for new slab formation and a good chance of triggered slides near treeline.

Check in with the CAIC before heading into the backcountry for the latest forecast or call the local hotline at (970) 668-0600.

Check back later today with Summit Voice for a photoblog from the Beacon Bowl at Arapahoe Basin.

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