Avalanche danger continues to rise around the West
December 24, 2008
JACKSON, Wyo. ” Avalanche centers around the Rockies are warning that backcountry conditions are already hazardous and likely to become even more dangerous with approaching storms.
Centers in Colorado, Montana, Utah and Wyoming have issued avalanche warnings.
The avalanche danger in Colorado is growing after days of heavy snows and strong winds. There have been two deaths and three accidents the past 10 days in that state due to avalanches.
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center says the greatest risk is in the mountains west from Frisco to Grand Junction and south from Steamboat Springs to Durango.
Shelly Grail of the U.S. Forest Service says the current threat originated in October when early snows were followed by warm weather. That created layers of sugary, unstable snow and hard snow that break apart when they flex. Since 1950, Colorado has led the nation in avalanche-related deaths, with 221.
Bob Comey, director of the Bridger-Teton National Forest Avalanche Center in Jackson, said Wednesday that the area already has a weak snowpack. He said additional snowfall of perhaps as much as 2 feet is forecast for coming days.
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Comey said the center anticipates a major avalanche cycle during the storm and immediately afterward. He says conditions are likely to remain dangerous for some time.
“We are seeing natural avalanche activity,” Comey said. “We have a weak snow pack, and we have a big storm coming in with strong winds. So we expect to see more avalanches. With the accumulated snow from the past several storms, plus the new snow that’s anticipated, we’re expecting to see large avalanches.”
The National Weather Service is predicting snow in Jackson every day through the weekend.
“It’s a good time to back off and do something else,” Comey said of the possibility to skiing or snowmobiling in the backcountry.
The Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center in Bozeman, Mont., reported Wednesday that the avalanche danger in the mountains near Cook City was high on all slopes steeper than 35 degrees and on any wind-loaded terrain. The center reported that four people were partially buried on Saturday and that conditions on Monday were dangerous enough to keep center personnel from entering avalanche terrain in the area.
The Montana center rated the avalanche danger as considerable in many other mountain ranges in the state.
The Utah Avalanche Center also is discouraging travel through the backcountry because of increasing danger from snow slides.
A wave of winter storms has dumped snow all over Utah, especially in the mountains. Another round expected for Wednesday and Thursday could push the danger level from high to extreme.
The Utah Avalanche Center says steep slopes where snow has drifted in the wind are the most vulnerable. People are being discouraged from going to the backcountry until the conditions improve.
The avalanche center says a backcountry skier escaped two separate avalanches in the Park City mountains on Monday by clinging to trees for safety.
Avalanche center Forecaster Drew Hardesty told The Salt Lake Tribune that the unidentified man was an experienced skier. He was not injured during the incidents.
The skier was along the Park City ridgeline when he triggered a slide 40 feet above him. He grabbed a tree as the snow went by. Hardesty says that then, as the man was trying to ski out, another slab broke loose 100 feet above him, forcing him to grab another tree for safety.