Avalanche danger high amid storms | AspenTimes.com

Avalanche danger high amid storms

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Damn tempting to go romp around in the backcountry today, isn’t it?

But check out what Nick Logan of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center wrote on Wednesday afternoon.

“Enjoy the new snow, but give it a chance to settle and stabilize before venturing onto the steeper slopes. This may take several days as the cold temperatures will inhibit stabilization in the new snow layer.”

It was supposed to stay under 13 degrees last night and not get above 24 degrees today. And tonight is supposed to be absolutely nippy, with lows ranging from a balmy 2 above to 2 below zero.

But back to Logan’s discussion of the snowpack on the CAIC’s Web site.

“About 50 avalanches were reported [Wednesday]. Most were from the south mountains with control work at Telluride. There were four triggered slides at Monarch. There were 12 avalanches reported from Gothic plus many smaller slides.

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“These were on all aspects and elevations. However, visibility is still too poor to get good observations into the backcountry in many areas.”

Hmm, does this sound like a stable part of the cycle? But wait, there’s more.

“In the north mountains, Copper Mountain observed two natural releases that formed from recent winds. In the Aspen area some of the recent snow is poised on large surface hoar feathers.

“This could have occurred elsewhere too, and will be a fragile layer that could contribute to avalanches in the future. With more cold temperatures in the forecast the fresh snow will take several days to stabilize. Bonding to the old snow will remain suspect.”

And you probably didn’t even know that Aspen had “large surface hoar feathers.” Hoar feathers, maybe, but not “large surface hoar feathers.”

Contact your local backcountry snow expert for an in-depth discussion of what hoar feathers do for snow stability. But for now, just think of a wide wooden box sitting on a hill covered in ball bearings.

No wonder Logan notes that “most of the avalanche activity in the last 48 hours released where the new snow rested on the old snow surface.”

We’re hoping he does not have to write late today “that most of the avalanches released under the weight of a skier or snowboarder.”

So, here’s the important stuff. How the backcountry avalanche danger is currently rated in the central mountains, where Aspen lies.

“Overall HIGH in the warning areas in the West Elks and Elks (that’s us, folks), and in the vicinity of Monarch Pass. Elsewhere the danger is CONSIDERABLE but areas of HIGH exist wherever new snow amounts exceed 12 inches. Below treeline, MODERATE danger on slopes 35 degrees and steeper for triggered releases.”

Still heading out the door with your skins? Before you go, Logan has a request of you.

“Backcountry travelers in the central and southern mountains, please use extra caution at this time and avoid slopes steeper than 30 degrees, especially wherever fresh slabs have developed either above and below treeline.

“Also, avoid crossing below steep terrain. Natural avalanches are possible to likely in areas where snowfall was heavy. Human-triggered avalanches are certain on most steep terrain where slabs have developed in lee areas.”

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