Avalanche warning issued for Summit
February 8, 2008
SUMMIT COUNTY ” If you ski or ride on steep, slide-prone terrain in the backcountry today, it’s likely you will trigger a potentially dangerous avalanche.
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) Friday issued an avalanche warning for the Vail and Summit zone, urging backcountry travelers to avoid slopes 30 degrees or steeper.
A warning was also in effect for the Front Range mountains around Winter Park and Berthoud Pass and the Steamboat and Flat Top zones. The warning is in effect through 6 a.m. Saturday morning. The danger rating is also high in the Aspen and northern San Juan zones.
CAIC forecaster John Snook said the warning may expire today, but expected the danger rating to remain high on northeast through south aspects near and above treeline.
Snook said the rating on other slopes could be dropped a notch to considerable, pending evaluation of the latest data very early this morning.
He said it’s important to remember that there is only a slight difference between the ratings. A high danger means natural avalanches can be expected. The considerable rating means there is still a significant danger of triggered slides.
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“We have concerns for this weekend,” Snook said. Warmer temperatures are expected, which in itself could add to instability. More snow riders are also expected in the mountains, all representing potential triggers.
“This is a time to dial it back a little bit,” Snook said.
Illustrating the potential danger, CAIC observers reported a large slide in the French Gulch drainage near Breckenridge Wednesday that ran from near a ridge at 12,300 feet to the valley floor, leaving a huge pile of debris on the creek bed.
New snow totals Friday morning of a 12 inches or more put even more stress on an already tender snowpack. Easily triggered soft slabs in the new snow can step down into older layers, leading to very large and dangerous slides, CAIC forecasters wrote in the Friday morning bulletin.
“This is an exceptional winter for snow, a one in 20 or 30 year season,” said former CAIC forecaster Dale Atkins.
Local skiers and riders who have lived in the area for 10 or even 15 years just haven’t seen conditions like this season’s, and may be lulled into a false sense of security by their experience, Atkins said.
“This is a winter full of exceptions, and they haven’t seen those exceptions,” he added. “This is the kind of winter when even experienced people can get in trouble. Those habits they’ve developed in the past 10 years aren’t good enough.”