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December 22, 2012
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Aspen backcountry conditions 'very touchy' for slides

ASPEN - Powder-hungry skiers and riders who are thinking of venturing into the backcountry are being warned by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center to use extreme caution because conditions remain tender.

The danger has eased a bit since the big snowstorm Tuesday night, but as of noon Friday, it remained "considerable" on most aspects at all elevations. It was rated "moderate" on south, southwest and west aspects.

Backcountry conditions were "very touchy" Friday, according to a forecast filed by the avalanche center's Scott Toepfer.

"Observers are still remotely triggering good size slides from some distance away," Toepfer wrote. "Avalanches will occur on many slopes and they may be larger than you are expecting."

Toepfer's discussion of conditions stresses that this winter has presented the perfect recipe for slides. The powder visible on the surface is inviting after the recent snowstorms, but all that new snow is resting on top of "very weak, early season snowpack," he wrote. He is particularly concerned about slopes facing northwest, north, northeast and east.

Multiple observations from the field show that both natural and triggered avalanches are occurring every day, the avalanche center's report said. Numerous observations of triggered and natural slides have been turned in from the Richmond Ridge area, south of Aspen Mountain.

Conditions are so touchy that backcountry travelers sticking to valley floors or lower slopes could easily trigger avalanches on the slopes above them, the report said.

"Whumpfing sounds and cracking are signs indicating a weak and dangerous snowpack," Toepfer wrote. "(Friday) those collapses and shooting cracks will likely produce remotely triggered avalanches. Be very aware of steep slopes above and near your group."

Wind-loaded slopes also add to the danger, according to the avalanche center.

While Tuesday's snowstorm created dangerous avalanche conditions, it boosted the snowpack tremendously.

"Current snowpack for the entire Roaring Fork Watershed is 56 percent of average," the Roaring Fork Conservancy, a nonprofit organization involved in water quality and quantity issues, reported Dec. 20. "Recent snows have moved the average up from 38 percent two weeks ago."

Nevertheless, drought conditions persist, the conservancy noted. Six of seven automated snow measuring stations scattered around the Roaring Fork Watershed "are reporting less snow today than this day in 2001, the last significant drought year," the conservancy reported.

The avalanche center website is at https://avalanche.state.co.us/index.php.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Dec 22, 2012 09:23AM Published Dec 22, 2012 01:44AM Copyright 2012 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.