Avalanche info center still open | AspenTimes.com

Avalanche info center still open

Allyn Harvey

Backcountry skiers who thought they were on their own in trying to assess avalanche risks can breathe a sigh of relief – the Colorado Avalanche Information Center is still open.

A wire story in yesterday’s Aspen Daily News announcing that the information center closed last Sunday was apparently wrong. Weather and snowpack reports from the center’s Denver office were available yesterday via the telephone or the Internet, as they have been all season long.

An Associated Press story quoted the center’s director, Knox Williams, saying that the service had ended three weeks earlier than usual because donations from ski areas were down this year. He promised that information needed by the Colorado Department of Transportation would continue until the end of April.

The Avalanche Information Center is run by the U.S. Forest Service, with money from the federal and state governments and private organizations.

Jim Stark, with the White River National Forest ranger’s office in Aspen, said that he used information from the center on Monday and Tuesday to issue local reports. The information wasn’t available yesterday, but according to the center’s website there were problems with the phone lines in Denver.

Williams did not return calls seeking comment.

“The avalanche center gives weather and snowpack conditions specific to the north, central and southern mountains,” Stark said. “We use that information along with local information from the Aspen Skiing Co.”

Stark said the Skico provides detailed weather and snowpack information that allows his office to issue reports specific to the upper Roaring Fork Valley. Snowmass and Aspen Highlands are particularly important for the local report, he said.

Avalanche warnings vary depending on conditions. The following is the rating system and definitions used by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. Low: Natural and human-triggered avalanches are unlikely. The snow is generally stable, although there may be isolated areas of instability. Travel is generally safe. Normal caution advised. Moderate: Natural avalanches still are unlikely, but human-triggered avalanches are possible. Unstable slabs may be found on steep terrain. Use caution in steeper terrain on certain aspects. Considerable: Natural avalanches are possible, and human-triggered avalanches are probable. Unstable slabs are probable on steep terrain. Be more cautious in steeper terrain. Be aware of potentially dangerous areas of unstable snow. High: Natural and human-triggered avalanches are likely. Unstable slabs likely on a variety of aspects and slope angles. Travel in avalanche terrain not recommended. Safest travel is on windward ridges or lower-angle slopes without steeper terrain above. Extreme: Widespread natural or human-triggered avalanches are certain. Extremely unstable slabs on most aspects and slope angles. Large destructive avalanches are possible. Travel in avalanche terrain should be avoided and travel confined to low-angle terrain well away from avalanche path runouts. Stark said his office will continue to issue daily reports at least through this weekend, regardless of the status of the information center. Once the Skico closes Snowmass, there may not be enough information to issue localized reports.

In past years, Stark has directed late-season inquiries to the information center, so he’s not sure what he’ll do if it actually closes down this week.

The local avalanche line is 920-1664. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center hotline is (303)-275-5360.

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