Avalanches in Routt County spark warnings amid weeklong snow storms
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Avalanche experts are urging caution following reports of multiple avalanches in the mountains around Steamboat Springs in recent days.
Meteorologists are calling for daily snow showers over the next week, which could lead to more slides.
The closest avalanche sighting reported to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center occurred Sunday on Buffalo Pass, according to Becs Hodgetts, a forecaster with the organization. A group of skiers triggered the slide on a northern-facing slope, but all of the skiers managed to get out safely.
As of Wednesday, the avalanche danger for Steamboat and the Flat Tops Wilderness Area was moderate and should remain at that level for the near future, according to Brian Lazar, deputy director of the Avalanche Information Center. A persistent layer of weak snow and wind-loaded slabs pose the primary danger for triggering avalanches, he said.
This comes after recent snowfall and heavy winds over the weekend and on Monday. North- and east-facing slopes are the most dangerous for avalanches following the storm, Lazar said.
There, wind-blown slabs measure 1 to 2 feet in thickness. Below the slabs is a weak layer of what Lazar referred to as surface hoar. This is a layer of feathery crystals that are prone to sliding in “surprising, sometimes devious ways,” he said.
“We keep receiving reports from observers in the area that this weak layer is really reactive in snowpack tests,” Lazar said.
Dan Edmiston, a local avalanche expert and educator, urged particular caution for backcountry enthusiasts traveling in Fish Creek Canyon. Accessible from Steamboat Resort, the area is often thought of as a safer option for less-advanced skiers, but it is not free of danger.
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“People have this false sense of security that because terrain is accessible from the resort that it is somehow immune to avalanches,” Edmiston said.
In 2012, a massive avalanche measuring an estimated 400 to 500 yards wide sent a 4-foot slab surging down the canyon. Fortunately, no one was caught in the incident, but it was a sobering reminder that any slope can slide.
In the wake of oncoming storms, Lazar said it is unclear how additional snowfall could impact avalanche danger. The Steamboat area could receive as much as 10 inches of fresh snow by Friday, he said. As of Wednesday, the National Weather Service in Grand Junction predicted calm winds amid the storms, which should mitigate concerns.
While Lazar expects avalanche danger to increase slightly in the coming days, he predicts the level will remain at moderate. He encourages people to stay up to date on forecasts and conditions on the Avalanche Information Center’s website at avalanche.state.co.us.
The safest places for backcountry enthusiasts, according to Lazar, are south-facing terrain and slopes below 35 degrees in steepness. Everyone who travels in the backcountry should carry an avalanche beacon, a probe and shovel and should never travel alone, he added.
The Avalanche Information Center will host an avalanche awareness clinic on Friday, followed by an all-day field training on Saturday.
What: Free clinic and discussion on avalanche safety from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center
When: 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 10
Where: Allbright Auditorium, Colorado Mountain College Steamboat Springs, 1275 Crawford Ave.
What: Field session on avalanche safety
When: All day Saturday, Jan. 11
Where: Rabbit Ears Pass
Sign up at Ski Haus for $45
Edmiston also is teaching several avalanche safety classes at Colorado Mountain College Steamboat Springs in January and February. To sign up, visit the online course catalogue at coloradomtn.edu.
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