On the Hill: Avy center still operating
Shifting to a spring schedule, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) will offer thrice-weekly web updates and via the Front Range and Vail/Summit County hotlines through the end of May.The Roaring Fork Avalanche Center has ended its forecasts for the season.This is the second year the center has extended operations into the prime spring backcountry season, and it may be the last, according to first-year director Ethan Green.Last year, the CAIC spent an extra $6,000 running the forecast service through the end of May, but only tallied 170 hotline calls during that time. If that ratio doesn’t improve, the center may end operations in April next year, he said.The May forecasts will be updated Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons, and the center will also issue special bulletins or warnings if conditions warrant, he said. As ski areas around the state close, the data flow for evaluating hazards shrinks, Green said.All in all, Green said he was pleased with the response to the new website, which offers more localized forecasts for specific geographic areas around the state. More changes are planned for next year, and Green said this is a great time to send in suggestions and feedback.With plentiful April snowfall, a few slabby hazards could still be out there, Green said.”There are some buried weak layers. We kind of saw that a few weeks ago,” he said, referring to several large slides in the Vail Pass area in late March.The most recent storm resulted in two- to three-foot drifts in places, and field observers earlier this week said the new snow wasn’t bonding well with the old surface on east through south aspects. Warmer temperatures forecast in the next few days, though, should help consolidate the snowpack on all aspects and elevations.Field tests resulted in shears on an inconsistent buried dust layer, apparent on east and southeast aspects above tree line, according to the CAIC’s April 26 forecast.Transitional spring conditions mean there is still a potential for triggering slabs in a few places, but as things warm up, backcountry travelers should also be aware of the potential for wet snow slides, especially near and below rock outcrops, Green said.Cornices can also be very tender this time of year, and travel routes along ridgelines should be evaluated carefully.Green suggested the standard early start for spring mountaineering trips, the idea being to get off the summit before the snow turns to mashed potatoes. Spring thunderstorms are another factor to be considered, he said.The CAIC website is at http://avalanche.state.co.us/
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