Vail area avalanche danger expected to be ‘considerable’ this week

This still image comes from video of an avalanche captured on Interstate 70 between Frisco and Copper Mountain on Sunday.
Courtesy of Brandon Ciullo
The forecast Here’s the forecast for Vail from the National Weather Service’s Grand Junction office: Tuesday: Mostly sunny, with a high of 33. Wednesday: Chance of morning snow showers and afternoon rain, with a high of 45. Thursday: A chance of snow showers, with a high of 45. Friday: A chance of snow showers, with a high of 42. Saturday: Mostly cloudy, with a high of 32.

EAGLE COUNTY — A combination of snow and high winds has created significant avalanche danger in the backcountry of Eagle and Summit counties.

After the high country received 2 feet or more of snow over the weekend, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center issued warnings about “high” avalanche danger for much of the central Rocky Mountains, including the Vail and Summit County area. That warning was issued for areas near and above timberline.

According to the center, a high rating warns of “very dangerous avalanche conditions. Travel in avalanche terrain (is) not recommended.”

Below timberline, the avalanche danger was rated as “considerable,” warning of “dangerous avalanche conditions. Cautious route-finding and conservative decision-making (is) essential.”

The avalanche danger is expected to drop to “considerable” for all areas starting today.

But Colorado Avalanche Information Center forecaster Ethan Greene said Monday that today may be just a lull in what could be a dangerous week.

According to the National Weather Service’s Grand Junction office, more snow is expected from Wednesday through Friday.

At Cripple Creek Backcountry in Vail, Jack Sumner said people at that shop provide customers with the same information no matter the conditions: have the right information, go with the right people, have the right gear and know where you’re going.

On days like Monday, though, Sumner said he’ll tell people, “The (ski) resort is great; there’s no need to go out today.”

Be prepared

Both Greene and Sumner advised anyone thinking about heading into the backcountry to check the center’s forecast for the day. Greene added travelers should check the website before hitting the roads.

While no injuries or deaths were reported locally from the weekend storm, a backcountry skier near Telluride was caught in a slide Sunday and died. Crews recovered his body Monday.

Sumner has been in the valley for a few years, but said the weekend’s snowfall was the most he’d seen in this area since he’d moved here.

Snow over the weekend brought surprises around the area. The Colorado Department of Transportation monitors avalanche zones along the Interstate 70 corridor, and has spent time this year closing the highway and triggering and clearing slides in those spots.

The avalanches — one in the morning and one in the early evening — that slid into I-70 in Tenmile Canyon between Copper Mountain and Frisco came out of areas that don’t slide often. If they do slide, they don’t usually hit the interstate.

Greene said it was 1983 the last time that area slid hard enough to reach the interstate.

The Summit County slides were part of a busy weekend for highway crews.

Patrick Chavez, the corridor manager for the Colorado Department of Transportation, said the Tenmile Canyon slides “came as a shock to a lot of people.”

The biggest contributor to the slide, of course, was a lot of snow and wind in a relatively short time.

Chavez said there will be other avalanche mitigation efforts going on during the next few days.

Overall, the weekend on I-70 included safety closures in the westbound lanes of the Eisenhower Johnson Memorial Tunnels, and in the eastbound lanes between Silverthorne and the tunnels.

Chavez said those closures were called to give plow crews free access to clear off the road.

Under normal circumstances, a big storm in the mountains will prompt transportation officials to call in plows and other resources from nearby areas. But, since the Front Range was hit hard by the same storm, moving resources around became more difficult.

“It was a bit of a challenge,” Chavez said.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at and 970-748-2930.

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