Avalanche Danger Rises With Snow Fall
By Jason Konigsberg, Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC)
The Central Mountains received between 8 to 22 inches of snow over the last couple days. The highest snow totals are around Schofield and Kebler Pass. Areas around the town of Crested Butte, as well as Monarch and Fremont Passes, got about a foot of snow. All areas experienced very strong westerly winds. Initially, winds were west or southwest veering to northwesterly after frontal passage on Saturday. Heavily loaded easterly-facing slopes will be most concerning in all areas of the Central Mountains.
This storm is a major test for the shallow and still young snowpack in the Central Mountains. As expected, the snowpack is failing the test. With the poor visibility yesterday the CAIC didn’t receive a lot of observations but the observations they did receive indicated collapsing, shooting cracks, and of course avalanches.
In the Marble area near Aspen, a large avalanche released naturally above the quarry road. Skiers in the area also reported numerous collapses and cracking on all aspects and at all elevations. A skier also triggered a sizable avalanche on a north-facing slope Near the Aspen Mountain ski area, off of Richmond Ridge, a skier was completely buried by a Loose Dry avalanche on a northeast-facing, below treeline slope. The Aspen zone snowpack failed the test of the new storm and this not where the highest snow totals were.
Further south in the Gunnison zone there are more reports of avalanches from near the Crested Butte ski area. All observations pointed to significant crack and collapsing. These signs are clear indications of the potential for large avalanches breaking on persistent weak layers. With the brutal weather on Saturday, most of these observations came from less wind-exposed areas and the more dangerous areas that are heavily wind loaded have yet to be viewed.
For most of the Sawatch Zone that saw a little less snow, the new slabs are a little thinner but drifted areas are still worrisome. It’s possible that many areas that are further east do not have enough of a slab yet to overload buried weak layers. The next period of unsettled weather, due up later this week, will likely push these eastern areas to the breaking point.
The bottom line throughout the Central Mountains is that multiple persistent weak layers exist in our snowpack, especially on northerly and east-facing slopes. The state’s developing snowpack warrants an extra dose of caution. Everyone hopes it continues to snow and that the snowpack can eventually become strong and deep. Right now this is not the case and dangerous conditions exist in many areas of the mountains.
The CAIC Backcountry Avalanche Forecast for The Sawatch Range
You are likely to trigger an avalanche if you travel on steep wind-loaded slopes. You can identify these drifted areas by their smooth and dense snow surface texture. You will find them below cornices, ridge lines and along the sides of gullies. These avalanches may gouge into the old snow, gaining enough volume to bury or kill you. Reduce your risk by avoiding travel on or below steep wind-loaded terrain.
How to Support CAIC
The Friends of CAIC are hosting the 11th Annual CAIC Benefit Bash on Dec. 1, 2018, at the Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge as we come together to support the CAIC in their continued efforts in avalanche forecasting and education throughout Colorado. This winter’s party will feature great music from Rapidgrass, incredible beer from Breckenridge Brewery and the members of Summit County’s United Brewer’s Association (SCUBA), and dinner provided by 5 Star Catering! Tickets are available for pre-purchase for $50. Entrance fee includes one door prize ticket, two drink tickets, access to the winter’s largest gear giveaway and silent auction and a performance by the band Rapidgrass. Click here to get your tickets in advance because this event will sell out.