Sunny week in Yampa Valley should help to ease avalanche risk in Routt County
After frequent snowfall in the Yampa Valley, this week’s sunny and dry forecast will likely entice some folks into the backcountry.
Steamboat Ski Resort has reported 42 inches of snow since the start of the year, but more has fallen at higher elevations.
Measurements at popular backcountry sites, like Rabbit Ears Pass and Buffalo Pass, have recorded more than 50 inches of snow, according to the National Water and Climate Center.
“We got a nice weather week and possibly some snow chances by Friday and the weekend,” said Mike Weissbluth, a local meteorologist who runs the forecasting website SnowAlarm.com. “We could be 5-10 degrees above average for most of the week.”
A ridge of high pressure over the West Coast will keep storms away from the valley and temperatures in the mid to high 30s for much of next week, according to the National Weather Service.
“It’ll be nice because we have had such high avalanche danger, and this will allow the snowpack to consolidate and become safer,” Weissbluth added.
Snowfall since before Christmas had avalanche danger high in the Steamboat and Flat Tops area from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. But on Monday, Jan. 10, the avalanche risk is expected to be moderate.
“As we go into a period of settled weather, avalanche danger will continue to decrease,” said Jason Konigsberg, a forecaster for the Northern Mountains Group with the avalanche center. “In the Steamboat and Flat Tops zone, our persistent slab avalanche problem has likely turned a corner.”
Persistent slab avalanches come from the release of a cohesive layer in the middle to upper part of the snowpack with weak layers below. An avalanche can be triggered days or weeks after the last storm.
However, Konigsberg said the recent snowfall has not made conditions worse, and the snowpack is actually getting stronger.
The wind still poses a risk, with it blowing snow into drifts on downslopes, he added.
A slide that starts because of wind can break into deeper layers and result in a large avalanche. The risk is higher in areas with lower snowpack, like the east side of Rabbit Ears Pass and west of Steamboat Lake.
“For most of the zone, the snowpack is over five feet deep,” Konigsberg said. “It is not impossible to trigger a large, deep-breaking avalanche, but chances are decreasing.”
To avoid avalanches, Ethan Greene, director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, said it is best to stay on low angle slopes, preferably 30 degrees steep or less.
Backcountry enthusiasts should also pay attention to snow on adjacent slopes that could slide down on them, as well.
Greene stressed that people go out with the proper rescue equipment, including an avalanche beacon, probe pole and shovel.
“Around Steamboat, avoiding those steep slopes, especially if they are more than about 50 feet tall, is a really good way to avoid avalanche terrain,” Greene said.
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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