Snow, wind create avalanche danger in Steamboat backcountry | SteamboatToday.com

Snow, wind create avalanche danger in Steamboat backcountry

Steamboat Powdercats guide Bill Howard stands at the margin of the Jan. 11 Bitch Creek Avalanche (skier's right), providing scale to the size of the crown that broke on a persistent deep slab sitting on a weaker layer. No one was caught in the slide, although the slope had been skied earlier in the day.

— Forecasters are warning of considerable danger in the backcountry after avalanche warnings were issued for many parts of Colorado, including the Steamboat Springs zone.

The warning is through 9 a.m. Thursday.

"An unusual weather event should make us take a step back and approach the mountains with a more cautious mindset," the Colorado Avalanche Information Center reported Wednesday morning. "With very little information coming in during the storm, there are a lot of unknowns in regards to the snowpack. The only certainty is that this storm dumped a large amount of snow in the area, and any avalanche triggered will be large enough to bury a person."

The Zirkel and Tower automated weather stations have reported that between 4 and 5 feet of snow had fallen this week.

"Any time you get a meter of snow in three days, you're going to have some avalanche conditions," said retired avalanche forecaster Art Judson.

The state of Colorado is on edge after an avalanche closed Interstate 70 on Tuesday. The A-Basin Ski Area closed because of avalanche danger on Loveland Pass.

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As of Wednesday, no slides had been reported in the Steamboat zone.

"In storms like this, the visibility is so limited the number of avalanches reported are down because no one can see anything," Judson said.

Any avalanches that do occur may never be observed because they are then covered by snowfall.

Judson no longer lives in Steamboat, but he has been monitoring conditions and getting reports from people in the field.

Judson had reports from the Soda Mountain and Little Agnes that the snow was unstable even before the most recent storm.

"Additional new snow and wind today (Wednesday) will do nothing but further exacerbate any avalanche problems," CAIC reported. "We all need to practice patience and give this large storm due respect. This respect will be in the form of avoiding all avalanche terrain until the storm clears, and we can better assess the state of the snowpack."

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland