Aspen-area avalanche risk moderate; snow conditions variable |

Aspen-area avalanche risk moderate; snow conditions variable

Michael Appelgate
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

ASPEN – On Wednesday, when a trace to 2 inches of snow was reported in Aspen, Brian McCall, of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, was most concerned with the variable snowpack in this below-average-snowfall winter.

“Below-average snowfalls are tricky,” McCall said. “The slopes are so variable from one to the next, so the first concern is what the wind is doing.”

According to the avalanche center’s website, the danger is moderate for slopes facing northwest, north, northeast, east and southeast near and above the tree line. The primary concern, as McCall mentioned, is the wind, which blew the fresh snow onto the older slabs. The new slabs could be unstable.

While the risk is just moderate, the second-lowest rating out of the five possible, McCall still advises all skiers and hikers in the backcountry to take caution on each slope.

“Take lots of observations,” McCall said. “Probe and poke at the snow. It is too variable from one slope to the next.”

Because of this new, thin layer of snow on top of the older layers, the next storm could produce dangerous conditions. Already in the past two weeks, four people have died at Whistler in British Columbia and in the Rocky Mountains of Montana due to similar conditions.

Officials attributed all four deaths to a low amount of snowfall and then a large amount on top of the thin slabs of snow, which causes avalanches when skiers and snowmobile riders travel over the top.

“If we do get a big storm, I’ve been concerned about the easier-access places where skiers can get on a slope with no problem,” McCall said. “If we get a couple of feet of snow, things could be very dangerous.”

McCall advised that when Aspen does receive a large amount of snow, people wait a couple of days before venturing out into the backcountry.

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