Backcountry skiers beware: CAIC raises avalanche danger to considerable
December 20, 2018
Anyone heading up into Grand County's backcountry Thursday morning should take note of the avalanche forecast for Dec. 20.
Thursday morning forecasters from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, or CAIC, issued an avalanche forecast of considerable for Grand County and the broader Front Range avalanche zone. An avalanche forecast of considerable means the avalanche danger in Grand County is at level three, out of a five level scale.
"Strong northwest winds have drifted new snow into thick slabs on easterly and south-facing slopes," reads the forecast from the CAIC. "You can trigger large avalanches in these areas. Avalanches in wind-drifted snow can step down to more deeply buried weak layers resulting in a larger and more difficult to escape avalanche."
Officials from the CAIC recommend backcountry travelers "avoid all steep slopes where these new wind-drifted slabs exist." Forecasters noted that the wind-drifted slabs may be further downslope than people expect and that anyone in the backcountry work to identify terrain likely catchement areas of wind-drifted snow where slabs have developed, highlighting mid-slope convexities and walls of gullies as likely locations.
"Shooting cracks and hollow feeling snow underfoot are indications of unstable snow and the potential for avalanches," forecasters stated. "Make conservative terrain choices today and stick to more sheltered terrain to lessen your chance of trigger an avalanche."
Breaking down the CAIC avalanche forecast for the Front Range shows considerable avalanche danger above treeline and near treeline with a level two, moderate, avalanche danger forecasted for areas below treeline. The CAIC has highlighted southerly, southeasterly, easterly and northeasterly slope aspects above and near treeline as the most likely danger areas. The potential to kick off an avalanche today is considered "likely" and the CAIC predicts that avalanches initiated today will range in size of small to large.
The CAIC forecast anticipates a drop in avalanche danger in Grand County on Friday with all three zones, above near and below treeline, forecasted to see moderate avalanche danger for the start of the weekend.
According to a research study conducted by officials from the CAIC and several others shows most fatal avalanche incidents occur when the danger level is rated considerable with the greatest increase in fatal accidents occurring in the transition between moderate and considerable.