Aspen-Snowmass ski area January snowfall total passes 80 inches; backcountry avalanche risk is considerable

Staff report

Avalanche conditions remain considerable in the Aspen zone after the third in a series of storms brought 10 to 15 inches of snow and strong winds to the backcountry, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

The series of storms deposited slabs of new and drifted snow 1 to 4 feet thick on steep slopes, according to Blase Reardon, the avalanche center’s forecaster for the Aspen zone. Gusty winds caused drifting on slopes in all directions, Reardon wrote in his Tuesday forecast, but even wind-sheltered slopes, “especially near Aspen,” pose a danger. Slabs have built on a soft, collapsible layer of surface hoar, he said.

“That combination means you can trigger unexpectedly wide avalanches on small slopes,” Reardon wrote.

He urged skiers and snowboarders to be especially careful right now in glades, steep alleys in the trees and open, below-treeline slopes — terrain that is common in the “sidecountry” just outside the ski areas.

Meanwhile, the snow keeps piling up this month on the in-bounds slopes. Aspen Skiing Co. reported Tuesday that 9 inches of new snow fell by dawn Tuesday over the prior 24 hours, and as much as 22 inches of snowfall has been recorded over the last week. That flurry has boosted the total for January to the 80-inch mark. Aspen Highlands has received the most snow, with Snowmass and Aspen Mountain right behind.

“Due to the abundant winter storms that have swept across the west, Aspen-Snowmass has a snowpack that is 180 percent of average,” Skico said.