Storm boosts avalanche danger
State and local avalanche centers are a couple of weeks away from issuing the first forecasts of the season, but the slide danger is already here.Recent storms, including one that dumped 10 inches of new snow at Snowmass on Wednesday night, have left a snowpack of up to 2 feet in the mountains, and there already have been reports of several avalanches, including 10 in the past week on the east side of the Ten Mile Range in Summit County, according to avalanche trackers.”We’ve been finding a few things that are worth watching as the snowpack builds,” said Colorado Avalanche Information Center forecaster Scott Toepfer. A recent snowfall did not bond well with the snow surface from a late-September storm, creating ripe conditions for avalanches.The CAIC, however, doesn’t expect to begin issuing avalanche forecasts until mid-November. Neither does the Roaring Fork Avalanche Center, which will start up its second season of operations in mid-November, said director Brian McCall.In the meantime, backcountry skiers looking to make turns in the high country may find iffy conditions, McCall cautioned.”I’ve seen avalanche activity with every storm we’ve had this fall, even the one we had in September,” he said. “It’s certainly avalanche season. People need to be plenty careful out there.”Both McCall and Carbondale ski mountaineer Lou Dawson have been spending time in the Montezuma Basin area of late, along with other eager skiers. High in the Castle Creek Valley, south of Aspen, it is a popular place to find early-season snowpack, especially now that Independence Pass is closed to vehicles.McCall said he observed slide activity on a variety of aspects in the basin last weekend.Dawson’s backcountry skiing blog, after an Oct. 21 outing, notes: “The amount of snow in Montezuma Basin, Colorado, is of historic proportions. Pack is easily 48 inches overall, with areas of 6 or more feet in the lee of the classic fetches that build the ‘glacier’ we ski on in the summer.”It’s often true that the early-season snowpack in Colorado is more stable, before winter packs on multiple layers of snow, Dawson said, but that’s apparently not the case this year.”I saw at least a half-dozen slides,” he said. “They weren’t gigantic avalanches, but several dumped into terrain traps.”The traps, ravines and gullies where sliding snow can pile high, can easily prove deadly.Often a safer alternative to the backcountry are the gentler slopes of local ski areas. Plenty of locals are skinning up the runs before the lifts start running, Dawson noted.”A lot of people will go up and do powder skiing on Buttermilk at this time of year. That can be excellent,” he said.For avalanche bulletins, once the websites begin posting reports, go to http://www.geosurvey.state.co.us/avalanche/ for statewide information from the CAIC and http://www.rfavalanche.org/ for Roaring Fork-area forecastsThe Associated Press contributed to this report.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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