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Beyond the ropes

Tim Mutrie

Backcountry skiers triggered a Class II-plus avalanche (on the rising scale of five) in a gully known as Karins off the Snowmass Ski Area yesterday.On Tuesday, in the Five Fingers area off the ridge beyond Highland Peak, a threesome kicked off two smaller, Class I-plus soft slab slides.So what’s it like in the backcountry?”Anything steep is suspect,” internationally certified guide Amos Whiting of Aspen Expeditions said Wednesday afternoon. “You have to be real cautious and conservative with your terrain selection. And in general, be careful about getting into real big terrain.”Set on conducting early season recon, Whiting and partners hit Five Fingers and then Karins. The group found conditions consistent with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center forecast – moderate danger with pockets of considerable – in both areas. And in both areas the group indeed found those pockets of considerable danger, triggering three separate slides.In Karins, after a skin up from the top of the Big Burn lift, “we sympathetically triggered a Class II-plus – plenty big to bury you. The crown was probably 24 inches and it ran 200 yards,” Whiting said.”We triggered it walking around the shallow edges of the slab. Then we found easy sheers on our stability tests with a big wind slab, trigger-happy on a couple different layers.”And the conclusions?”A lot of these cross-loaded gullies are definitely suspect. We weren’t sure about the west aspect, but Karins affirmed that west is just as sketchy as everything else,” Whiting said.”And it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Lower angle, below tree line and slopes with less wind loading are always safer bets. But stuff can still happen everywhere.”


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