Avalanche danger could last all winter
30 slides reported in area since Sunday
December 17, 2009
Steamboat Springs — The lack of deep snow and "rotten base" of snowpack have created avalanche conditions around Steamboat Springs that could last the whole winter, according to avalanche forecasters.
The Steamboat Springs and Flat Tops areas are listed at a considerable risk of avalanche by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. Locals who have been in the backcountry say they can see signs of stress in the snow.
Steamboat resident Tim Rowse said that on Tuesday, avalanche indicators were "blatantly obvious" on Buffalo Pass.
"There were big chunks of snow coming off the hill," he said.
He said he stayed on slopes less than 30 degrees, a move experts say is smart in avalanche-prone areas.
"It's pretty spooky right now," Rowse said. "I will go back, but when I do, I will keep it mellow."
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Eric Deering, director of operations for Steamboat Powdercats, said the risk of avalanche was apparent even as the crews were on training areas, well away from the steepest slopes.
"It's kind of like an upside-down cake," he said.
Avalanche Information Center forecaster Jim Snook said the avalanche-prone conditions were formed when a relatively small layer of snow was left to sit out in the sun during the days and into cold, clear nights.
That created "sugar snow," or facets, that are "kind of like ball bearings" near the ground.
"Now that we've put several feet of new snow on top of that … weak foundation, the weight of a skier or snowmobiler or whatever is causing that weak foundation to collapse," Snook said.
Since Sunday, 30 avalanches have been reported in the mountains north of Steamboat and in the Flat Tops, he said.
Snook said although the avalanche risk has decreased slightly during the past week, the conditions will continue to be unsafe.
"People are going to need to pay attention out there, probably for all winter," he said.
Deering agreed that the base layer wouldn't fix itself.
"The beginning of the snowpack is going to stay with us for a while, and there will be a lingering hazard," he said.
The avalanche conditions appear more often in central Colorado than in the Steamboat area, Snook said, but about every five years the slides are more prevalent.
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