Steamboat’s Buffalo Pass snowpack is at 10 feet |

Steamboat’s Buffalo Pass snowpack is at 10 feet

Forecaster: Wind slab conditions exist in backcountry

— The snow on Buffalo Pass is 10 feet deep, and there’s a chance of snow in the forecast for Sunday and Monday that could push it higher. Buffalo Pass was the general location of several soft slab avalanches Jan. 22, according to a report filed Friday by the Color­­ado Avalanche Infor­­mation Center.

No one was caught in the slides, which were deliberately triggered.

“We haven’t received any new reports of instability since (Jan. 22) when an observer near Buffalo Pass triggered numerous slides with deliberate ski cuts,” forecaster Scott Toepfer, of the CAIC wrote in an online report. “Most of these triggered slides were soft slab releases of wind-deposited snow on north to northeast aspects near and below treeline.”

The largest slide was 1 foot deep and ran 150 feet, he said.

“Although danger is beginning to ease, these conditions likely still persist, especially on easterly aspects, which are receiving modest but steady loading,” Toepfer said.

He advised backcountry users to be wary of wind slab conditions on easterly slopes this weekend.

In spite of the cautionary information from last weekend, the avalanche center was rating the snow slide danger in the mountains surrounding Steamboat Springs as moderate Friday.

The National Weather Service in Grand Junction is forecasting a 40 percent chance of snow today, building to 50 percent Sunday night and Monday.

Veteran weather observer Art Judson keeps a pair of snow measurement stakes on Buffalo Pass to track the growing snowpack on a weekly basis.

“The U.S. Forest Service took the readings on Jan. 25 and found 127 inches on the northern stake and 111 inches on the southern stake,” Judson reported.

The 37 inches of water stored in the snowpack above 10,000 feet at Buffalo Pass on the Continental Divide north of Steamboat already is 128 percent of the average for Jan. 29.

Steamboat Ski Area has recorded 252 inches of snowfall at midmountain this season, meaning 10 inches of snow in the coming week would push the ski area past the snow total of 261.75 inches for the 2009-10 season.

The 20-year season snowfall average at Thunderhead is 335 inches, according to Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. records. The record snowfall of 489 inches came in 2007-08.

The depth of the snow in the mountains surrounding Steamboat, and more pertinently the moisture contained in the snowpack, is of great interest across the region. The office of the federal Natural Resource Conservation Service in Steamboat Springs monitors the snowpack. District conservationist Lori Jazwick said her crews were completing the first snow survey of the season. Farmers, ranchers and reservoir managers all will want to know the results.

“They pay pretty close attention,” Jazwick said.

The conservation service maintains a flock of automated snow measuring sites, or snotels, in key locations across the region. But employees take periodic measurements by hand to make certain the instruments are performing accurately. They slide long aluminum tubes into the snow and extract a core sample. The depth of the snow and its weight tell them how dense and wet the snow is.

“They were on Rabbit Ears Pass on Wednesday and found 20 percent water density in the snow,” Jazwick said. “That’s fairly typical.”

The snow on the west summit of Rabbit Ears was 66 inches at midweek, but the water content, 23.1 inches, is more impressive than it is on Buffalo Pass in terms of its percent of average. The typical water content on Rabbit Ears at this point in winter is 15.2 inches, putting this week’s measurement at 152 percent of average. The Yampa and White river basins overall are at 128 percent of average.

— To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or e-mail

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