Avalanche danger near Steamboat considerable
Wild weather produces tender backcountry snowpack
January 23, 2012
Steamboat Springs — Avalanche forecasters say the likelihood of spontaneously occurring avalanches in the rugged peaks and ravines of the Park Range near Steamboat Springs will have moderated by Tuesday, but the likelihood of human-triggered avalanches remains considerable.
Officials of the Medicine Bow and Routt National forests and the Colorado Avalanche Information Center issued strong cautions Monday about the tenderness of the snowpack in the Steamboat zone.
"Widespread dangerous avalanche conditions exist today," Brian Lazar, of the Avalanche Information Center wrote Monday. "Triggering avalanches is likely on any snow-covered slope 30 degrees or steeper that did not slide during the natural cycle (Sunday). Triggering slides will be easy, and some of them will be bigger than what we have seen so far this winter."
U.S. Forest Service officials noted that wild swings in temperatures and precipitation have increased the danger in the snowpack this week.
"Periods of warm weather have created a freeze-thaw chain of events, and thus an icy base layer of snow," officials wrote in a news release Monday. "Recent snow accumulation and high winds are making the snowpack unstable and putting avalanche conditions at a dangerous level."
An observer for the Avalanche Information Center made a firsthand report of indicators of avalanche danger from just outside the north boundaries of Steamboat Ski Area on Saturday, when he said rain fell on an already-touchy snowpack as high up the mountain as 9,000 feet.
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Observer Jeff Green said he traversed a 30-degree southeast facing slope to "get to Gate 2," where he triggered small, fresh wind slabs "running on late-week rain/wind crust." He also found slabs that easily cracked on a "safe, 28-degree test slope."
After stepping 10 feet beyond a control gate, Green wrote that after "two light jumps, (he) experienced (an) audible whoomph and visible shooting cracks 10 to 15 feet."
Chris Sporl — acting director of recreation, heritage and wilderness resources for the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Region — said with snowpack conditions like those being experienced in the Colorado Rockies early this week, it's not enough for backcountry enthusiasts to have the proper equipment, and he called on them to avoid avalanche-prone areas.
"We are very concerned about the conditions as well as the rate of accidents so far this year," Sporl wrote in a prepared release on Monday. "We urge forest visitors to use extreme caution when accessing these areas."
— To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com