Avalanche risk on rise, as Highland Bowl bootpackers know | AspenTimes.com

Avalanche risk on rise, as Highland Bowl bootpackers know

Bootpackers in Highland Bowl check out the avalanche path after a slide occurred in the B1 and B2 lines on Friday. No one was injured.

Avalanche danger already was on the rise Friday, as bootpackers learned in Highland Bowl, and is increasing with this latest storm, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

A slide with a maximum width of 40 feet and 700 feet long was triggered during bootpacking operations at Highland Bowl, according to a report and pictures posted in the avalanche center's "observations" section. The slide occurred at about 11:30 a.m. on the B1 and B2 lines and ran to the bottom of the slope, noted observer Blase Reardon, Aspen area forecaster for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

Reardon wrote that bootpackers were "not carried because (they were) roped."

Aspen Skiing Co. spokesman Jeff Hanle said no one was injured in the slide and there was no threat to life.

"They were to the side or above" the slide area at the time it was triggered, he said.

Volunteer bootpackers join Aspen Highlands Ski Patrol this time of year to pack down the snow and create a stable base on the steep slopes. There are between 30 and 60 bootpackers on any given day, but not all of them are working in the bowl, Hanle said. Some are working in the trees off to the sides of the bowl. The workers in the bowl are typically roped up, he said.

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Hanle said he talked to Highlands Ski Patrol Director Mac Smith and learned that Friday's slide wasn't anything out of the ordinary. Patrollers regularly trigger those types of slides, Smith said, according to Hanle. The experience might have been more of an eye opener for the volunteers.

"What I gathered, if you're not an Aspen Highlands ski patroller, you might say, 'Whoa, that was crazy,'" Hanle said. Volunteers were impressed enough that they posted pictures of the slide aftermath on Facebook, he said.

A picture posted by Reardon on the avalanche center website shows bootpackers checking the avalanche path after the slide occurred.

The avalanche center's forecast for the Aspen zone assessed the avalanche risk as considerable near and above treeline for today and moderate below treeline. One to 2 feet of snow was expected at higher elevations before this latest storm plays out.

"Expect dangerous storm and persistent slab avalanche problems to develop because of high snowfall rates and drifting snow," the forecast said. "As the day progresses, large, human-triggered avalanches will become likely. Natural and remotely triggered slides will be possible on and below steep slopes. Be alert for rapidly changing conditions and increasing danger."

On the days ahead, the new snow won't bond well with the crusts leftover on sunny slopes near and above treeline, the forecast said. "This storm slab avalanche problem will become more widespread, more reactive and larger as the snow accumulates during the day," said the forecast issued Monday morning. "Be leery of slopes steeper than about 35 degrees."

For the latest forecast for the Aspen zone, go to http://avalanche.state.co.us/forecasts/backcountry-avalanche/aspen/.

scondon@aspentimes.com