Winter storm triggers avalanche warning for Aspen, much of Central Mountains

Staff report

An avalanche warning was put into effect early Friday for a wide swath of the Colorado backcountry, including the entire Aspen zone.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center said the warning would remain in effect through at least 6 p.m. Saturday because of the strong winter storm moving into the mountains. Up to 20 inches of snow are expected on the eastern and southeastern sides of the Aspen zone by Friday night.

The rating is high near and above treeline for both today and Saturday. The avalanche risk is rated considerable below tree line.

The avalanche warning is also in effect for the Southern Mountains, the Gunnison zone and the Grand Mesa zone. An avalanche watch covers other parts of the mountains, including Vail and Summit County.

In the Aspen zone, “large, human triggered avalanche are very likely,” the avalanche center said in its statement. “If triggered, these avalanches will be large enough to kill you.”

The center advised people to stay out of avalanche terrain because of the dangerous conditions.

The winter storm “will add a rapid load to a very weak snowpack,” said the report by CAIC forecaster Mike Cooperstein. “If you initiate an avalanche in the new snow, it has the potential to step down to deeper weak layers resulting in a large, catastrophic avalanche that can easily kill you or your partners.”

Natural releases of slides are also possible, according to Cooperstein. His report gave a sobering assessment of how people in the backcountry could be caught unaware by the risk.

“You will be able to trigger avalanches from adjacent slopes and even flat areas way below avalanche starting zones,” the report said. “Natural avalanches both in the new and old snow layers are very likely. These avalanches can run long distances and catch you off guard in places where you think you are safe.”

In a Facebook post on Wednesday, the Friends of CAIC noted that there had been 22 reported human-triggered avalanches in the state over the prior eight days. In those slides, there were 14 people caught and four completely buried, but no serious injuries or fatalities.

The danger is even greater now.