Avy danger considerable around state
As Thursday’s deadly avalanche on Quandary Peak illustrated, the snowpack on Colorado’s mountains is precarious. Forecasters warn that backcountry enthusiasts should anticipate both natural and triggered releases, with good route-finding skills required for safe travel in the High Country. “There’s an old surface hoar layer (from early December) that’s buried about two-thirds of the way down the snowpack,” said Brad Sawtell of the Summit County office of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. “It’s the reason you can get things to step down three or four feet,” he said, explaining that weather events from several months ago can have a direct effect on the current avalanche danger. Sawtell toured around Vail Pass mid-week and found there is quite a bit of tension in the layers of fresh surface snow, resting in some places on tender feathery crystals that can collapse like a house of cards. On slopes with a more southern aspect, Sawtell said he found two melt-freeze layers that are also suspect. Warning signs can include shooting cracks in the snow and the whoomphing sound of collapsing snow.With plenty of fresh spring powder falling in recent days, Sawtell said backcountry skiers and boarders should be aware that they could easily trigger a dangerous “step-down sandwich,” when the mass and momentum of a relatively small surface slide can dig down into older layers, resulting in a large and potentially dangerous avalanche.Sawtell said the current conditions in the local mountains remind him of an early March scenario in the Tetons a few years ago, when two backcountry skiers died after the snow gave way on a surface hoar layer that formed around Christmas.
So far this season, avalanches have killed three people in Colorado and 21 across the U.S. Ski patrollers at A-Basin reported several slides Thursday, and the Colorado Avalanche Information Center reported that ski patrollers at Telluride triggered about 20 avalanches with control work. Slides were also reported at Wolf Creek Pass and along Red Mountain Pass, where seven paths ran to the highway.The avalanche forecast posted Friday morning indicates that due to recent snowfall (anywhere from eight to 22 inches) and strong winds above treeline, tender slabs have formed in lee areas and in cross-drifted slopes in all mountain areas.Backcountry travelers need to carry and know how to use avalanche rescue gear, and groups of skiers and boarders should cross suspect slopes one at a time, never exposing more than one person at a time to avalanche hazard.For the mountains in and around Summit County, the avalanche danger is rated as “considerable,” with pockets of “high” near and above treeline on north to east to south and southwest aspects. Below treeline and on other aspects the danger is rated “moderate” with pockets of considerable on slopes steeper than 35 degrees.
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