New 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.
So far this season, four have died in Colorado avalanches, with total now at 13 across the country.
Avalanche deaths normally peak in January, but February and March aren’t far behind, and this year’s snowfall patterns could make the next few weeks especially dangerous. Sparse early season precipitation across large parts of the West resulted in unstable layers deep in the snowpack that can’t support the weight of the new snowfall.
Across Colorado, the avalanche danger is currently rated as considerable in most mountain areas, with natural slides possible and triggered slides likely in the fresh and touchy slabs on steeper wind-loaded slopes.
Similar conditions prevail across other parts of the Rocky Mountains, where the latest round of storms has dropped more than a foot of snow in the past week. Avalanches that start in the new snow layer could easily step down into thick older slabs, setting the stage for large and dangerous slides.