Spring snowpack still dangerous for backcountry skiers despite moderate to low avalanche forecast
It is spring in the high country and while the temperatures are higher and the sun shines longer each day it is also a time of potential danger for backcountry skiers and snowboarders, who may be lulled into a false sense of safety as the snow begins melting across our local peaks.
Spring can be a great time for backcountry adventures, especially after mountain resorts across the state have halted operations but the unique weather dynamics can lead to deadly avalanches, in part because of a perception that mountain slopes are safer later in the year. The current avalanche forecast for Grand County and the greater Front Range forecast zone is fairly mild as of Monday afternoon, moderate to low depending on proximity to treeline.
Wet and heavy spring snow coupled with multiple layers of unstable snowpack can be deadly though, as several folks discovered last week. A member of Aspen’s Mountain Rescue Team was killed in Pitkin County on April 9 and another skier was buried in an avalanche near Georgia Pass the following day, though that individual survived.
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center is forecasting moderate avalanche danger above and near treeline in Grand County with low avalanche danger below treeline.
“You may be able to trigger wet snow avalanches,” reads the forecast from the CAIC. “On steep slopes, these avalanches could sheer off old snow layers like snow sliding off a steep roof. If you trigger one of these avalanches it could be large enough to bury you or push you into a terrain trap.”
The CAIC also recommends starting on east-facing slopes and moving west as the day progresses, “stay ahead of the surface warming,” stated the CAIC. The state agency also recommends avoiding areas where you find, “smooth wind-packed drifts of snow”.
If you are headed up to ride on Berthoud Pass any time soon make sure to check the daily forecast before venturing out into the backcountry.
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