Avy Center extends Summit forecasts | SummitDaily.com

Avy Center extends Summit forecasts

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Summit Daily/Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY ” Backcountry skiers in the High Country have long been asking the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) to issue weather forecasts and avalanche bulletins through the spring season, and this year, the center has responded by extending its hotline service through the end of May.

Weather and avalanche conditions will be updated three times a week based on field reports by local observers. The forecasts will be available on the local hotline number at (970) 668-0600, said forecaster Scott Toepfer.

The hotline will be updated on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. The bulletins will only be available by phone. Web-based forecasts and e-mail bulletins will end Sunday.

The decision to extend the hotline service was based in large part on feedback from users, Toepfer said, adding that the Summit County hotline is consistently one of the busiest in the state. Additionally, the level of backcountry use in the area is high, and Summit County historically has seen the highest number of avalanche accidents in Colorado.

Toepfer said May is often considered to be prime time for backcountry skiers, who start looking at more aggressive lines.

“People are starting to think about skiing Fourteeners,” Toepfer said. “And up high, we’re still holding a winter snowpack. There’s a couple of things we worry about, like people getting lulled into a false sense of security.”

Conventional wisdom has it that spring is the safest time to ski, and in many cases that’s true, as the snowpack homogenizes and the slabby layers disappear. But you shouldn’t let your guard down completely, Toepfer warned.

“Remember what happened last spring,” he said, referring to a wet snow slide on Buffalo Mountain that injured a backcountry traveler, as well as a deadly wet snow slide that killed a Boulder skier at Arapahoe Basin in late May.

A sudden and sustained warm up could trigger a wet snow avalanche cycle on high-elevation slopes, even on northerly aspects this time of year, Toepfer said.

Transitional conditions can make it even harder than usual to forecast avalanche hazards. Even though the snowpack may be bomber and winter-like up high, backcountry skiers and snowboarders could easily encounter conditions ripe for wet snow slides lower down on the mountain and on sunny south and west aspects, he said.

Regular field observations during May should help forecasters to better pinpoint potential danger zones.

The CAIC’s spring observations will also include looking at fracture lines of any naturally occurring slides, Toepfer said. The information will be used as part of a regional study of wet snow avalanches launched by the U.S. Forest Service after last year’s deadly A-Basin slide.

The CAIC is looking to revamp its forecasting format for next year, with more localized information. Toepfer said the preliminary plan is to divide the state’s mountains into as many as 10 zones, with specific forecasts for each area. That will require boosting the network of observers, he


Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at bberwyn@summitdaily.com.

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