Avalanche danger eases " slightly | AspenTimes.com

Avalanche danger eases " slightly

ASPEN ” Avalanche danger has eased up a bit in the Aspen-area backcountry, at least according to one forecasting agency, but observers admit it has been difficult to see exactly what is going on.

It has been snowing in Aspen, almost without let-up, since Tuesday afternoon. Snow, blowing snow and low clouds in the high country are making it difficult to see what might have slid on surrounding peaks, according to Brian McCall, director of the Roaring Fork Avalanche Center.

The local forecast center rated avalanche danger near and above treeline as high Friday for the second straight day, meaning natural and human-triggered avalanches are likely. Below treeline, the danger is slightly less, with a rating of considerable, according to the center.

“We are seeing some activity out there,” said McCall, who spent Thursday on Richmond Ridge, on the backside of Aspen Mountain. “My feeling from today (Thursday) was that high rating was right on.”

It snowed all day Thursday on the ridge, McCall said, and snow continued to fall Friday morning.

“It certainly is going to keep the danger factor up there,” McCall said.

A skier-triggered avalanche was reported on an east aspect of Richmond Ridge at 11,400 feet on Thursday, according to the Roaring Fork Avalanche Center.

Advises the center in its Friday report: “In unusual conditions such as these, there is the potential for unusual avalanches. With such an unstable snowpack, terrain selection is critical. Traveling on or near slopes steeper than 30 degrees at and above treeline is not recommended today. Natural and human triggered avalanches will be likely on these slopes. Use extra care to avoid being on or under N-E-S slopes at and above treeline. On slopes below treeline steeper than 30 degrees, human-triggered avalanches will be probable.”

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center issued an avalanche warning for the Aspen zone on Wednesday, but backed off on the high rating it had given for all aspects and elevations when it updated its report late Thursday afternoon.

The CAIC’s latest report deems avalanche danger in the Aspen area as considerable at all elevations, with pockets of high danger near and above treeline. The CAIC, too, acknowledged the challenges in making high-country observations, given the low visibility.

The CAIC also dropped its avalanche warnings for the Gunnison area and northern San Juan Mountains, but its latest report maintains a high avalanche rating for all aspects and elevations in the Steamboat Springs area.

Given the current conditions, backcountry enthusiasts need to be very cautious near and above treeline when they are on or traveling below slopes of 30 degrees or more, according to John Snook, CAIC forecaster.

“We do expect the weather to get warm this weekend. People will be getting out there. We want to get the word out there that it’s dangerous,” he said.

For those who feel safer skiing inbounds, local ski areas reported 2 to 4 inches of new snow within the past 24 hours on Friday morning. Over the past 48 hours, accumulations range from 6 inches at Buttermilk to a foot on Aspen Mountain, according to the Aspen Skiing Co.

Over the past week, close to three feet of new snow has fallen at Snowmass; Aspen Mountain has picked up 32 inches and Highlands, 31 inches.

For local avalanche reports, go to http://www.rfavalanche.org. The CAIC website is at http://avalanche.state.co.us/ and links to both site are available at http://www.aspentimes.com/backcountry.

Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com

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