Avalanche danger remains moderate
December 27, 2016
Peak ski season is approaching us and Grand County is seeing an influx of skiers from all over. Heightened numbers of skiers and riders means heightened opportunity for accidents and inexperience in the backcountry.
According to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) website the Front Range will see strong westerly and southwesterly winds which will "thicken slabs near and above tree line today (Tuesday) and add an unwanted load to an already weak snowpack. It may not be obvious, but this constant, incremental load is slowly pushing the snowpack to its breaking point in many areas. This is evident from a very large avalanche that occurred in Cameron Pass on Saturday. The avalanche broke about 2,000 feet wide, ran 900 vertical feet and went the whole way to the ground. A similar snowpack structure exists across much of the Front Range zone."
A common mistake for these conditions is when skiers see other tracks on a slope and assume it is safe, but this is not true. Evidence of other skiers in the area only means they were able to avoid the shallow weak areas that could trigger a slide. Even witnessing many tracks on a slope does not guarantee that you will not hit exactly the right spot to trigger a deadly avalanche.
"To stay above the danger avoid being on or underneath all slopes steeper than about 30 degrees that face north through east to southeast where you find a weak snowpack structure deep in the snowpack," CAIC warns.
“To stay above the danger avoid being on or underneath all slopes steeper than about 30 degrees that face north through east to southeast where you find a weak snowpack structure deep in the snowpack.”Colorado Avalanche Information Center
There have been two deaths due to avalanches in the United States so far this year: one in Nevada on Dec. 10 and one in Montana on Dec. 11.
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Rabbit Ears Pass near Steamboat has already seen one avalanche earlier this month when two snowmobilers out of a group of eight were caught in a slide. Both people survived. The group reported two of their riders were temporarily buried under four feet of snow in an avalanche that one of the snowmobilers had triggered. The riders were wearing avalanche packs and were able to communicate with other riders via radio.
The incident reportedly occurred on a steep, south-facing slope off Forest Service Road 311, which crosses Muddy Creek near Rabbit Ears Peak. Riders reported they made a "poor choice" of trails for the conditions.
CAIC's forecast has a Moderate warning above and near tree line through Wednesday, Dec. 28. To check conditions visit avalanche.state.co.us.