Avy danger spikes in Summit County backcountry
Ryan Summerlin February 5, 2013
People heading into the backcountry over the next several days should be cautious and more aware of site-specific conditions, after a weekend of snow and wind increased local avalanche danger to considerable.
“What’s happening with the new snow and wind is that it’s creating a thick slab, which means it’s getting harder to trigger the avalanches,” Colorado Avalanche Information Center forecaster John Snook said. “If you do though, it’s going to be bigger, deeper, higher consequence.”
At least five slides were triggered across the state on Saturday alone, after wind on Friday consolidated the feet of new snow that accumulated in some places the day before.
There was one fatality and multiple reported injuries as a result of the avalanches.
Experts say the snowpack is in a delicate state of balance after the last storm cycle with an exceptionally weak base layer. The new coating of heavier, wind-loaded snow from recent storms has created what experts called dangerous slabs.
The avalanche danger was rated considerable on all aspects across the western half of Colorado Tuesday, but Snook said the variability in conditions in the Summit County and Vail zone can be among the biggest problems.
Snow accumulations from the last series of storms ranged widely from roughly 3 feet near Vail to approximately 10 inches in areas around Summit County.
“We really have to get folks to pay attention to the local conditions where they’re going out,” Snook said. “The things to be looking for are any recent signs of instability, recent avalanche activity. Do they feel like the snow is collapsing under their weight? Do any cracks propagate away from their skis or snowboard? Those are all signs that the snow is failing underneath them.”
The avalanche danger will likely remain elevated for the remainder of the winter and spring, Snook said.
Future snowfall, forecasted to begin Friday night and continue into Saturday, could also add to the risk of slides.