Three days of accumulating snow have returned the mountains of North Routt County to a state of avalanche danger for the second time in less than a week.
Spencer Logan of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center issued a warning Monday afternoon of "high" avalanche danger in the backcountry of the Elkhead Mountains north and west of Steamboat Lake. Noted avalanche expert Art Judson, who is based in the Elk River Valley, said he has counted 46 slides since Feb. 15.
An avalanche warning was put into effect for the northern Park Range and Elkheads last Wednesday. It was subsequently lifted. However, Hahn's Peak received about 8 inches of snow above 9,300 feet Saturday, when Steamboat was getting only snow showers. And the storm that brought a foot to Mount Werner on Monday produced 16 inches in 24 hours above 8,100 feet on Sand Mountain, Judson said.
Numerous layers of snow of varying consistencies are adding up to heightened avalanche danger throughout Colorado, Logan said.
"A complicated stack of recent wind slab and storm instability is sitting on top of an equally complicated old-snow surface made up of those crusts and facets we've been discussing for a long time," Logan said. "The load has been added slowly enough that there has not been a widespread avalanche cycle. But we continue to creep toward the critical amount of stress. It has been reached in the Elkhead Mountains north of Steamboat and an avalanche warning is in effect."
Logan said winds would continue to drift snow into avalanche starting zones. He urged backcountry travelers to take the time to plan their routes to avoid areas of avalanche danger.
"Use good route-finding techniques to avoid slopes near 30 degrees or steeper if you want to avoid the risk of being caught in an avalanche," Logan said. "Remember, it is possible to trigger an avalanche from the bottom of a steep slope looming above you."