Monster Fish Creek avalanche is topic of Saturday discussion
December 6, 2012
Steamboat Springs — Steamboat Springs is known for its powder snow and its ample tree skiing, but not so much for steep terrain. And while avalanche danger in the region is real and can be deadly, it's frequently not considered quite the risk here that it is elsewhere.
Local experts say Steamboat being safe is the wrong assumption, however, and that's one of the messages Steamboat Ski Patrol veteran Kyle Lawton hopes to impress on his audience during a 9 p.m. presentation Saturday at the Steamboat Mountain Film Festival in Colorado Mountain College’s Alpine Campus auditorium.
The Mountain Film Festival begins at 6 p.m. and features local film submissions as well as several other films. Admission is $10, with proceeds benefiting backcountry awareness projects.
Lawton's talk will focus on a massive slide last spring in Fish Creek Canyon just west of Steamboat Ski Area. The avalanche involved a slab of snow that broke away and rushed through trees and boulders in an area where many assumed such a slide could never happen.
"I want to talk about how it can go from a slope we don't think can slide because it has trees and all kinds of anchors to it actually being a prime slope angle to run," Lawton said.
Fish Creek Canyon is one of the most popular backcountry — or “sidecountry” — skiing destinations in the area, and it's accessible through gates from Steamboat Ski Area.
In some ways, it incorporates the best of Steamboat.
"The canyon doesn't have a lot of wind effect. That's one of the things that makes it so phenomenal most of the time," Lawton said. "It's in the trees. The powder sits in there and storms hunker down in that canyon and dump the snow."
Last season, conditions came together in just the wrong way, turning that skiers paradise into a massive slide in February.
"That's probably the biggest slide that's ever happened in that area," said Michael Martin, event director for the film festival and a backcountry aficionado himself.
Luckily no one was caught in the slide, which came just days after Steamboat's memorable 27 inches in 24 hours dump. So, the slide goes down as a lesson rather than a tragedy. Lawton hopes local adventurers can learn something from the scary close call.
"The lower canyon is one of those places you have to give respect," he said. "Last year, when you think this is an area that never slides, it slides big."