Avalanche on “Sleeping Indian” Mountain
Three Killed By Slides in Other Areas
“Since Friday three Coloradans lost their lives in avalanche accidents, and 132 avalanches were reported. One hundred and eight avalanches were triggered by people in the last week” said Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) Director Dr. Ethan Greene in a press release distributed to media outlets on Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020. The list included a natural, non-fatal avalanche on Mt. Arkansas (aka, The Sleeping Indian Mountain) located north of Leadville off Highway 91.
“More people die in avalanches in Colorado than any other state, and this year conditions are especially dangerous.” The CAIC is urging people headed to the mountains to exercise extra care in the mountains and pay special attention to the avalanche forecast.
On Saturday, Dec. 19, two backcountry skiers were caught, buried, and killed in an avalanche in the North San Juan Zone. The skiers were in an area locally known as the Battleship, southeast of Ophir Pass. You can view the preliminary report here. The day before, on Friday, Dec. 18, a solo skier was caught, buried, and killed in an avalanche in the Gunnison zone. He was skiing on the northeast end of the Anthracite Range in an area locally known as Friendly Finish. The avalanche occurred on a northeast-facing slope at an elevation of around 10,500 feet. You can view the preliminary report here. Condolences to the friends and family of all of these victims.
Recent Natural Avalanche Near Fremont Pass
Closer to home last Thursday, a natural avalanche was reported in the area known locally as the “Sleeping Indian” mountain on December 17, 2020. The avalanche was “certainly large enough to hurt someone,” CAIC Field Reporter Jason stated. “And possibly even bury someone.”
Conditions have been unusual due to recent high-pressure weather creating soft and hard tempered layers of snow stacking up on top of each other; a dangerous slab-unsteady situation. Viewers can watch the full report about the avalanche which occurred on Mt. Arkansas (aka Sleeping Indian Mtn), located off Highway 91. The peak towers above the Highway 91 “stork curve” south of Fremont Pass. The slide which was 100 feet wide and took its debris more than 200 feet down the mountain, took place on the east-facing slope which would mean it would not be visible from the roadway.
Slab Slides Top Local Concerns
by: Bo Torrey, CAIC. This report was issued on Mon, Dec 21, 2020 at 8:14 a.m.
Since December 10 the Central Mountains received 1 to 2 feet of snow. The snowpack before the snow arrived was a loose mess of facets, all that was missing was a slab. Over the last 10-days, as snow arrived and the snowpack developed a slab, we recorded over 100 human-triggered avalanches and more than 230 natural avalanches in the Central Mountains alone, with more each day. Expect more avalanches today. The snowpack is beginning to stabilize but not quickly.
Anywhere you find a thicker layer of new or recently wind-drifted snow at the surface you can trigger dangerous avalanches. It is a very obvious structure to observe if you get your shovel out and dig down on low-angle slopes. If you see more than about 10 inches of cohesive new or wind drifted snow over a weak and faceted layer then you have found the type of snowpack structure we need to avoid.
If you are traveling in areas where the snowpack is deeper, or where you experience cracking and collapsing, or find recently wind-drifted snow, on northerly or easterly-facing aspects, avoid steep terrain. If you are traveling in the thinner areas of the zone where the snowpack is less continuous, you may be able to ride in more terrain, but you still need to assess every slope for a slab over a weak layer combination.
On Friday, December 18 a skier was caught, buried, and killed in an avalanche outside of Crested Butte (note: the Gunnison zone as reported above). The skier triggered an avalanche that broke deep and wide on a wind-drifted, northeast-facing slope below treeline. You can view the preliminary report here. This is a very unfortunate incident, but it highlights what can happen if you trigger an avalanche right now. If you want to completely avoid avalanches stick to traveling on slopes less than 30-degrees that are not below, or adjacent to steeper slopes.
The Historic 2019 Avalanche Season
In case you missed it, Dr. Ethan Greene, Director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center presents information about the historic 2019 avalanche season in Colorado.
About the CAIC
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) is a program within the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, Executive Director’s Office. The program is a partnership between the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Department of Transportation (CDOT), and the Friends of the CAIC (FoCAIC) a 501c3 group. The mission of the CAIC is to provide avalanche information, education, and promote research for the protection of life, property, and the enhancement of the state’s economy.
The History of CAIC
Since 1950 avalanches have killed more people in Colorado than any other natural hazard, and in the United States, Colorado accounts for one-third of all avalanche deaths. The Colorado Avalanche Warning Center began issuing public avalanche forecasts in 1973 as part of a research program in the USDA-Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station. The program moved out of the federal government and into the Colorado state government, becoming part of the Department of Natural Resources in 1983. The CAIC joined the Colorado Department of Transportation’s highway safety program in 1993. The Friends of the CAIC (a 501c3 group) formed in 2007 to promote avalanche safety in Colorado and support the recreation program of the CAIC.
Funding for CAIC: How To Donate
About half of the CAIC’s funding comes from an intergovernmental agreement with CDOT to provide training and forecasting for highway maintenance operations. As part of the Department of Natural Resources, close to 40% of the Center’s funding comes from the Severance Tax Fund. The rest of the funding to run the program comes from the United States Forest Service, local governments, the Friends of the CAIC, and donations from people like you. CLICK HERE to Donate.
How The Sleeping Indian Got Its Name
Beacon Park Open for Training
The White River National Forest’s new beacon training park outside Minturn gives the public an easily accessible opportunity to practice using avalanche transceivers, a critical piece of safety equipment for winter backcountry recreation.
“Record numbers of people venturing into the backcountry, and the need for winter backcountry safety education is higher than ever,” said Eagle-Holy Cross District Ranger Leanne Veldhuis. “Avalanche transceivers are key to finding avalanche victims as soon as possible, but they are only effective if people know how to use them.”
The beacon training park is situated a short climb up the slope at the Mountain Meadow Trailhead on U.S. 24, which is about ¼ mile from the I-70 Minturn exit.
The park, which was developed in partnership with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, consists of eight buried transmitters that can be turned on and off from a small control panel. This allows for multiple search scenarios to familiarize people with using their avalanche transceivers and probing the snow for victims. It’s a self-operating system open all day to the public.
“Beacon parks have traditionally been located at ski areas, where general public access may be limited to pass holders,” Veldhuis said. “This accessible public location should help encourage more people to become proficient using avalanche transceivers, which can help save lives.”
While avalanche transceivers are important if someone becomes buried in an avalanche, avoiding avalanches in the first place is the best strategy. Before heading into the backcountry, check the avalanche forecast.