After ‘close call’ Saturday, Aspen-area avalanche risk soars even higher
January 9, 2017
CLOSE CALL SOUTH
OF ASPEN HIGHLANDS
A skier escaped injury after being swept several hundred feet down a slope and temporarily buried under snow at least twice Saturday in the Five Fingers area south of Aspen Highlands, according to an incident report filed with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
The report said a party of three skiers descended Thumb Ridge and moved to their at the bottom to avoid flanks and debris of a large natural avalanche. One skier descended and stopped at what appeared to be a “safe spot” on the skier’s right of the slope, the report said.
The first skier heard a loud “whumpf” when the second skier took a first turn on a steep part of a slope. The first skier yelled and the second skier escaped by turning left.
The slide propagated above the first skier.
“Skier 1 tried to hold onto (a) tree but was ripped from it when hit by debris,” the report said. “Carried several hundred fee down slope, under the surface at least twice, and stopped buried to shoulders with skis on. Lost pole but uninjured.”
The party that reported the incident wanted to remain anonymous, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. The gender of the skiers wasn’t listed.
Most information and images on that the avalanche center labeled “a close call” can be found at http://avalanche.state.co.us/caic/obs/obs_report.php?obs_id=44157.
The incident highlights the uncertainty of backcountry travel. It occurred before an avalanche warning was issued Monday (see related story).
The rain and heavy snow will send the avalanche danger soaring as the day goes on Monday and conditions will remain dangerous through Tuesday, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
An avalanche warning was issued Monday for the Aspen zone and much of the surrounding Central Colorado Mountains. Other zones under the warning are Steamboat and the Flat Tops, Sawatch, Gunnison and Grand Mesa.
"Natural avalanches large enough to bury or kill a person are likely by Monday afternoon, and the avalanche hazard will continue to increase Monday night into Tuesday with additional snow and continued strong winds," the warning said. "Travel in or below avalanche terrain is not recommended during this warning period."
Conditions are rated as "high" in the Aspen zone below, at and above treeline, for both Monday and Tuesday.
Aspen zone forecaster Blase Reardon wrote on the CAIC website Monday morning that conditions are complex and dangerous at all elevations. He noted that light snow fell on Sunday. Temperatures rose overnight, leading to rain at daybreak on Monday.
"Where is rains on Sunday's fresh snow, expect natural Wet Loose avalanche from steep slopes," Reardon wrote. "These can be dangerous if you're below them — on an ice climb, for instance — or they bury you in a gully."
At higher elevations, the danger is from natural and triggered Storm Slab avalanches. The snow falling at higher elevations on Monday is dense because of high temperatures, so it is quickly forming cohesive slabs, Reardon wrote. But it is sitting on lower density snow from recent storms "and that's a recipe for natural and easily-triggered slabs," the report said. "The potential size of these avalanches will grow larger as new and drifted snow accumulate through the day."
The debris from slides might run "surprisingly far into and through the trees," Reardon warned, "so give steep slopes a wide berth."
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center's website is at http://avalanche.state.co.us/.