Snowboarders set off slide in city limits |

Snowboarders set off slide in city limits


STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – A pair of snowboarders kicked off a rare event in Steamboat Springs on Wednesday afternoon. Call it an urban avalanche.”It happened so quickly,” John St. John said. “It didn’t hesitate, and it came in a big way. Right there in the middle of town.”St. John and fellow snowboarder Eugene Buchanan triggered the slide between 2:30 and 3 p.m. Wednesday. Neither man was caught in the avalanche, and neither was injured.The small avalanche ran about 120 feet down a steep slope on the extreme western edge of the Howelsen Hill area. Rain that changed to heavy snow overnight Tuesday into Wednesday may have played a role in the instability of the snowpack.Buchanan and St. John have formed a midday habit of looking for a little powder during the lunch hour. They ski or snowboard on small slopes they describe as “dorky lines.” As they came over the top of the ridge, Buchanan said they checked their speed. As Buchanan came around a small fir tree, the slope let loose.”It went, but it all went below me,” Buchanan said.The avalanche fracture ran to the ground, but there was enough snow remaining on the slope that the two men could ride out the path and head back to their vehicle via Howelsen Hill.”There was a lot of snow at the bottom,” St. John said. “It created a nice little debris pile.”Judson rated the size of the avalanche as a “one” on a scale of five. The fracture line was not smooth, Judson observed, indicating cohesion among the grains of snow was low. There also were signs that the snow might have been creeping or gliding on the surface of the ground prior to the release.Both St. John and Buchanan have had previous experience with avalanches, but they stressed that they don’t take a reckless approach to skiing and riding outside ski areas. St. John witnessed slide activity in the mountains surrounding Jackson, Wyo., while living there, and once was covered up to his knees in wet, cement-like snow produced by a small avalanche.Buchanan said he was buried in a slide on Valentine’s Day 1987 while cross-country skiing near Telluride with friends. “I hit a tree with my forearm and was able to grab it,” he recalled.Buchanan tucked behind the tree to get some relief from the avalanche and formed an air pocket that allowed him to breathe even though he was buried. Friends dug him out.Since then, he said, he has taken a number of avalanche safety courses and always takes a transceiver, probes and shovel with him into the backcountry. St. John said he is revising his plans to ski in the backcountry this weekend, and he urges others to do the same.Ethan Greene with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center said Wednesday’s avalanche in Steamboat illustrates how warm temperatures this week “wreaked havoc on a fairly stable snowpack and produced a significant wet-slide cycle.”Greene advised that if skiers and riders in the backcountry find themselves breaking through the surface into mushy snow, they should stay away from steep slopes.Vail, Colorado

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