Avalanche danger elevated

Windblown snow prompts mostly moderate marking

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Avalanche danger in the northern mountains of Colorado was elevated slightly Thursday after windblown snow Wednesday created some shallow slab conditions in the snowpack near and above timberline.

Knox Williams of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center said the avalanche danger in the backcountry of Colorado's northern mountains is "moderate" for the most part, but there are pockets of "considerable" danger near and above timberline.

Avalanche control crews at the Steamboat Ski Area completed their second circuit of the season Wednesday, dropping explosive charges in a few areas that are prone to snow slides. Ski area spokesman Mike Lane said ski patrollers encountered some small natural "sluffing" of loose snow and a few small "point releases" but nothing significant. Trails that received attention from the ski patrol include all three chutes on the north side of Storm Peak, North St. Pat's and East Face.

Steamboat has opened several control gates that allow skiers to leave the boundaries of the ski area for the backcountry of the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest. Skiers leaving the ski area boundary are advised to equip themselves for winter wilderness travel. Experienced backcountry skiers planning to exit the ski area are restricted to the control gates. All of the control gates now open are in the neighborhood of the microwave tower, above 10,000 feet, Lane said.

The term moderate avalanche danger, as used by the CAIC, implies that natural avalanches are unlikely, but human-triggered avalanches are possible. Williams suggested that backcountry travelers use caution in steeper terrain on certain slopes.

Williams' decision to raise avalanche danger to include pockets of considerable danger implies that backcountry skiers and snowmobilers could encounter areas where natural avalanches are possible, and unstable slabs are probable on steep terrain.

Thursday's avalanche report indicates that the pockets of considerable danger are more likely to be encountered on slopes that face north, northeast, south and southeast.

Peter Van de Carr at Backdoor Sports said he has spoken recently with people who skied Hahn's Peak and Sand Mountain without observing any avalanche activity. However, he cautions that should not be taken as a sign that there is no danger locally.

"No matter what you hear, the potential is right around the corner," Van de Carr said. "The snow can be rock-solid stable and two hours later, you can ski over a ridge and there is wind-loaded snow or sun-loaded snow that's unstable."

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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