Avalanche forecasters find ‘very weak, very scary snowpack’ in Aspen area

Staff report
Snow engulfs the Independence ghost town on April 25.
Scott Condon/The Aspen Times

While most Aspenites recovered from the X Games on Monday, avalanche forecasters explored the backcountry in the eastern side of the Aspen zone and found a “very weak, very scary snowpack.”

Mike Cooperstein of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center wrote in a forecast discussion Tuesday that a team in the field was able to make weak layers buried less than a meter deep fail and propagate in tests Monday. In addition, fractures were easy to trigger on a depth hoar layer.

Their message to backcountry travelers: don’t let your guard down despite recent warm weather. Although the avalanche rating in the Aspen zone is moderate (2 of 5 with 5 being extreme), conditions are tricky. “Across the Central Mountains, easterly-facing slopes tend to be the easiest place to trigger avalanches on these mid-pack and basal weak layers,” Cooperstein wrote.

The potential for avalanches will likely remain for quite some time, he continued, and slides could occur where unexpected.

“It is not uncommon to see previous tracks on a slope and then have the 5th or 6th rider trigger the entire slope,” Cooperstein wrote.

Avalanche information center officials have noted in the past that they see more accidents occur when conditions are moderate rather than high. People might be more at ease and let their guard down when ratings are lower.

“Very careful snowpack evaluation is necessary when there are persistent weak layers buried close to the surface,” CAIC advised Tuesday. “If you don’t feel comfortable assessing the snowpack for these tricky layers, avoidance is the answer. You can always stay safe by sticking to lower angle terrain.”