Avalanche conditions are still unpredictable in backcountry
SUMMIT COUNTY – Dozens of skiers and snowboarders carved long, sweeping curves through deep powder on Loveland Pass Sunday afternoon, reveling in the fresh snow that fell on Summit County last week.
But conditions are still inconsistent and unstable, avalanche forecasters warn.
According to Colorado Avalanche Information Center forecaster Dale Atkins, avalanche danger in the Tenmile and Gore ranges is “considerable” near and above treeline and “moderate” below treeline. “Considerable” means natural and human-triggered slides are likely, and large, destructive avalanches are possible.
Blowing snow triggered several slides along Loveland Pass Sunday, but the main danger for backcountry travelers remains in triggered releases, he said.
“Recent avalanches clearly show it’s possible – even likely – to trigger an avalanche in any mountain region,” Atkins said. “In three recent avalanches that involved people, the snowpack revealed no obvious clues to imminent danger, such as collapsing snow or shooting cracks.”
An avalanche west of Silver Plume in Clear Creek County early Sunday morning knocked out power lines, forcing Loveland Ski Area to close Sunday. Officials there reopened the ski area with auxiliary power. The base is 96 inches – 3 feet above average. Year to date, Loveland Ski Area has received 410 inches of snow, which is 122 inches above average and more 14 feet above the total snowfall for the 2001-2002 season.
Six people have died in avalanches in Colorado this season. Last Thursday, an avalanche killed a backcountry skier west of Loveland Pass; another slide killed a snowmobiler south of Rico, near Telluride, Saturday, and a third slide came close to burying skiers near Crested Butte Saturday.
“In the case of the slide near Crested Butte, there was no recent weather event to increase the danger such as new or blowing snow,” Atkins said.
“This is somewhat unnerving because it’s hard to forecast,” forecaster Nick Logan said Sunday. “That makes it hard to make sound route-
finding decisions when traveling in the backcountry.”
He recommended backcountry travelers avoid slopes steeper than 30 to 35 degrees.
“The problem is the deep instabilities that still exist in most mountain areas, including the buried facets or sugar snow from mid-December,” Atkins said. “If you dig for and test weak layers, you will likely find them, especially if you poke around in the less-deep snow areas.”
Sheriff’s deputies cited at least four skiers over the weekend for violating the Skier Safety Act by ducking under ski area boundary ropes to access the backcountry. Most ski areas have gates through which people can access the backcountry safely – and legally.
Three people ducked ropes to access the East Wall area at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area; another ducked a rope at Copper Mountain.
Forecasters expect a weak weather system to move through the mountains today, bringing with it a few snow showers. Today will be partly cloudy with winds from the northwest and high temperatures ranging from 23 to 33 degrees.
They expect additional snow Thursday.
Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or email@example.com.
Recorded avalanche information for Summit, Eagle counties:
To report an avalanche:
CAIC Breckenridge office (970) 547-0056
– Ski one at a time
– Provide space between skiers in exposed terrain
– Carry an avalanche shovel
– Carry – and use – slope meters
– Carry beacons – and know how to use – them
International Avalanche Rating Scale
Low: Human-triggered avalanches unlikely
Moderate: Human-triggered are possible; large, deep slides unlikely
Considerable: Natural and human-triggered slides are probable; large, deep avalanches are possible
High: Natural and human-triggered slides are likely
Extreme: Natural and human-triggered slides are certain; large, destructive avalanches are possible
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