Avalanche center issues statewide special advisory for holiday weekend
Triggered slides expected to break deep, capable of wiping out entire season’s snowpack
Summit Daily News
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center on Friday shared a “statewide special advisory“ video where information center Executive Director Ethan Greene described how this season’s snowpack “is a different beast.”
Greene explained how even for someone “who’s been backcountry skiing for 10 years in Colorado probably has never seen a snowpack like this one.”
Greene said conditions haven’t been this bad since 2012, adding “if you’ve been recreating in the Colorado backcountry for 20 years, this may be the second time you’ve seen these conditions.”
Greene said this year’s slides are running wider than you’d expect and crossing multiple terrain features — in some cases running the full length and width of avalanche paths. Greene said this effectively means the routes backcountry recreators are used to taking may not keep them safe this year.
Greene’s comments come after the deadliest week for recreational avalanche accidents in the country’s history. There were 15 fatalities across the country last week. As of Friday, there have been eight avalanche fatalities in Colorado this season, more than the year-long average of six. Greene said all of the state’s fatalities were men between the ages of 40-69, were passionate mountain athletes who had spent a lot of time recreating in the backcountry and were residents and integral parts of mountain towns for years.
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Greene said through the next few months avalanche danger will rise and fall with each weather event.
On Friday, the center forecast a considerable avalanche danger — level 3 of 5 — above and near timberline for the Vail and Summit County zone for Saturday. The rating is defined as “dangerous avalanche conditions” where “cautious route-finding and conservative decision-making is essential.” For below timberline, danger was forecast as moderate — level 2 of 5 — defined as “heightened avalanche conditions on specific terrain features” and where recreators are encouraged to “evaluate snow and terrain carefully.”
The center added in its report if a slide is triggered it will likely break deep on buried weak layers or to the ground where the snow is the weakest. The center pointed to a recent avalanche near Montezuma that wiped out the entire season’s snowpack.
“They will be very hard to escape and could bury you under multiple feet of snow,” the information center said in the report.
The center particularly cautioned against steep, wind-drifted slopes facing north through east to southeast, describing them as “the most dangerous and likely places you can trigger an avalanche.” The center also said to avoid slopes over 35 degrees ”where you find thick, dense slabs, overhanging cornices, or experience cracking and collapses.“