On the Hill: Backcountry primed for avalanches
November 7, 2005
It may only be early November, but all the ingredients for dangerous avalanches are already in place, experts at the Colorado Avalanche Information Center said Monday.In addition to Sunday’s slide at Berthoud Pass, which killed 32-year-old Sam Teetzen, skiers and snowboarders triggered avalanches at Loveland Pass and Independence Pass, CAIC forecaster Scott Toepfer said.Rescuers at the Berthoud scene triggered a second large slide, illustrating the tricky conditions.The slide at Independence Pass, east of Aspen, was a big one that ran to the ground, and reports of avalanches are also coming in from the Crested Butte area, he said, although no other injuries were reported.”Maybe people are thinking, ‘It’s early season, there’s not enough snow to slide,'” Toepfer said. “But that big October storm stacked the deck.”That storm dropped up to three feet at higher elevations, and fell without much wind. Since then, that layer has been changing into faceted snow crystals that don’t stick together very well and form an unstable base for subsequent layers.The most recent storm dropped 10 inches or more of light snow atop the earlier layer. Winds that reached 50 mph blew the snow into slabs, Toepfer said. “We’ve got all the ingredients needed for avalanche activity,” he said. While the center is not yet posting official hazard ratings due to a lack of widespread field reporting, Toepfer said the danger in some areas is considerable, with avalanches possible to even probable, depending on slope aspect and elevation.”Put those avalanche eyeballs on,” Toepfer said, urging backcountry enthusiasts to pay attention to warning signs such as cracks in the snow and the whoomphing sound of collapsing slabs and the unstable layer beneath. “It’s early season. Sometimes our enthusiasm overwhelms our common sense,” he said.