Blue Sky, China Bowl wind data available online
VAIL — Here in Colorado, you don’t have to see new snowfall to see a rise in avalanche hazard.
A half century ago, mountaineers would sacrifice sleep to study overnight winds, factoring their observations into the many decisions made the next day. Today, thanks to recent upgrades on the Colorado Avalanche Information Center website, local backcountry users can see wind data from the night before — hour by hour — from nearby areas before leaving their bed in the morning.
Wind data from Vail Mountain areas Blue Sky Basin and China Bowl was recently made available on the Colorado Avalanche Information Center website, combining modern technology with a increased demand for more and better data. In the Vail Valley, snow starts to move when wind speeds hit 10 to 15 miles per hour, contributing to cornice fall, persistent slabs and, of course, wind slabs.
“Wind slabs are common across Colorado,” the Colorado Avalanche Information Center reports on its website. “During periods of very cold temperatures and extended wind events, wind slabs can persist for around a week.”
ANEMOMETERS ON VAIL MOUNTAIN
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The wind anemometers on Vail Mountain will tell you peak gusts and average wind speeds by hour. The anemometers use a phone modem to dial up and send in wind data once per hour; that information is then simplified for the public once per day and sent in to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center early in the morning, where you can find it in the “Weather Stations” section under the “Observations” tab.
“It’s a very well organized and navigable site,” said backcountry enthusiast Leo Tsuo, who owns Weston Snowboards and arranges backcountry tours from out of the Minturn shop. “The reports are simple to understand, and if there’s jargon, they have scroll-overs and tools to help you understand.”
Tsuo said he’s certain the information available on the Colorado Avalanche Information Center’s website is saving lives.
“It just has to become a matter of habit, visiting that site and taking in all the information before venturing out that day,” he said.
An avalanche in Vail sidecountry on March 16 had some spooked as a trail of footprints leading into it suggested a person may have been caught in it. After shutting down Vail Mountain’s surface lift No. 22 and conducting a thorough search, ski patrol determined no one had been buried in the slide. It was a feeling of relief during a season that has seen an above average number of backcountry deaths — as of March 1, 23 avalanche fatalities had been recorded in the U.S. None have come from Eagle County this year.
“More and more people are finding their way into the backcountry in search of fresh powder every day,” Tsuo said. “The growing interest is bringing more people into dangerous situations, but at the same time avalanche education is progressing and gear is getting better and more affordable.”