Big snowpack, rapid warmup could trigger major avalanche cycle
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Powerful avalanches recently tore through 100-year-old trees near Peru Creek and toppled high-voltage powerline towers that were built in the 1970s, and forecasters with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center warn that more large slides are possible during the next few days and weeks.
The super-size snowpack in Colorado’s northern and central mountains could threaten recreational backcountry travelers as well government and private industry workers in the field, said CAIC director Ethan Greene, explaining workers clearing county roads, railroad and utility workers, as well as backcountry skiers and snowmobilers all could be at risk. Click here to see the latest CAIC discussion on weather and snowpack.
The forecaster center isn’t predicting specific slides for specific areas. Instead, Greene said the forecasters wanted to give a gentle heads-up about a spring avalanche scenario that’s unprecedented in recent years. Green said there are also areas near mountain communities where homes and other structures could be threatened. Continue reading “Colorado: Experts warn of dangerous snow and mudslides”→
Timing is everything when you’re planning those Big Lines
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 “Krane: Avalanche dragon can still bite in the spring”→
SUMMIT COUNTY — A couple of large, skier triggered slides in the Tenmile Range show that spring-like weather will lead to a spike in the backcountry avalanche danger.
With overnight lows barely dipping below freezing in many areas, the snowpack on steeper, sunny slopes will become more unstable, with a good chance of wet snow slides, especially below rock bands and cliffs as the day progresses.
Overall, conditions are “a go” for backcountry activities, but timing and route selection are key to safe travel, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center said in its Saturday morning bulletin, rating the avalanche hazard as considerable on all slopes near and below treeline because of the potential for wet snow slides. At higher elevations, the danger is rated as moderate. A “considerable” rating means both natural and triggered avalanches are likely. Continue reading “Backcountry: Spring avalanche danger spiking”→
Slides kill 3 in Canada 7 others rescued at Fernie, B.C.
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — New snow and high winds have prompted the Colorado Avalanche Information Center to issue an avalanche warning covering the mountains from Vail through Summit County and the Front Range. Human-triggered slides are likely on steeper wind-loaded slopes, especially those facing northeast through southeast. The warning is in effect through Jan. 18, 12 p.m.
Several recent slides reported from East Vail, Vail Pass area
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Forecasters are keeping a close eye on an approaching weather system that could drop one to two feet of snow across parts of the north-central mountains and up the avalanche danger early next week. Gusty winds out of the northwest could add significant wind slab to slopes above treeline.
As of Sunday morning the avalanche danger is rated as considerable near and above treeline on north through east through southeast-facing slopes, with the potential for triggering wind slab in many areas, especially on cross-loaded slopes and gullies. Of special concern are persistent weak layers in the upper part of the snowpack, including surface hoar layers that formed during recent cold spells. On other slopes the danger is rated as moderate.
You can follow the CAIC’s forecast for your part of Colorado by clicking here.
Risk of triggered avalanches high across the Colorado mountains
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — New snow in the Colorado mountains is great news for skiers and ski resorts, but the storm has also increase the risk of backcountry avalanches. Several highways, including US 50 over Monarch Pass, US 6 over Loveland Pass and US 160 over Wolf Creek Pass have have been closed intermittently for avalanche control work and the Colorado Avalanche Information Center issued avalanche warnings and watches for most of the high country.
According to an avalanche warning for the South San Juans, including the Wolf Creek Pass area, both natural and triggered snow slides are likely. Backcountry travel is not recommended on or under steep snow-covered slopes. A similar warning is in effect for the Gunnison zone, including the backcountry around Crested Butte, where storm totals have reached 50 inches around Gothic, Irwin and Schofield Pass.
The snow that’s fallen in the past few days is wet and heavy and could cause the snowpack to fail near the ground, creating large and dangerous avalanches. Gusty winds from the west and southwest have built windslabs that could easily be triggered by a skier, snowboarder or snowmobile, and some of those slides could step down into the weak layers of cohesionless, faceted grains now buried deep in the snowpack.
Several avalanches reported about a week ago point to the instabilities at the base of the snowpack. Read about the recent slides here.
The CAIC has also posted a detailed report on the fatal avalanche in Dry Gulch, east of the Eisenhower Tunnel, describing how the hard slab on the steep slope broke into refrigerator-sized blocks before burying a backcountry skier under two to three feet of heavy snow. The skier was wearing an Avalung survival pack that was stripped from his shoulders by the force of the slide.
So far this winter there have been four avalanche fatalities in the U.S. A climber in Washington was killed Dec. 4, just a day before the fatal Dry Creek slide.
Backcountry travel not recommended in Front Range, Vail and Summit-area mountains
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Friday night’s storm delivered the good across most of Colorado, dropping anywhere from 6 to 14 inches at ski resorts from Steamboat to Monarch. In a pattern that’s typical of a La Niña year, the moisture moved in from the northwest under a strong jet stream, dropping the most snow along the Continental Divide east of Steamboat Springs, with amounts tapering off to the south, where San Juan ski areas only reported a couple of inches.