Avalanche danger high in the Steamboat and Flat Tops regions this weekend
It’s tempting to head to the backcountry right now with snow dumping and Steamboat Resort barely open, but it’s strongly advised to stay out of the backcountry this weekend, as avalanche danger is high.
On Thursday and Friday, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center rated the danger in the Steamboat and Flat Tops areas as high, or a four on a scale of one to five. Additionally, the Steamboat/Flat Tops area is under an Avalanche Warning along with the Aspen, Gunnison, North San Juan and South San Juan zones through midnight Saturday.
The area above and near treeline was rated a four, while below treeline was rated considerable, or a three on the scale. The Saturday forecast rates all three zones a three, with considerably dangerous avalanche conditions.
“You could trigger these slides from a distance or below,” the CAIC stated in the forecast. “They may break much wider than you anticipate. Cracking and collapsing in the new snow are all signs that you have found unstable snow. You should give yourself a wide margin around avalanche terrain today.”
Now that there is snow, it’s important to check the avalanche forecast at http://www.avalanche.state.co.us/forecasts/backcountry-avalanche/steamboat-flat-tops/ ahead of each trip to the backcountry. The CAIC posts weekly forecasts on its youtube channel.
Thursday evening, a storm rolled in that dropped two feet in some areas in and around Routt County.
“The snow is falling on a really weak snowpack, especially on northerly facing slopes,” said Jason Konigsberg, an avalanche forecaster with the CAIC. “Basically there is a layer, the snow that’s sitting on the ground before this snow fell, changed the cohesion with sugary snow that can’t handle any kind of load like a big snow. When the snow comes in, it’s going to collapse those layers and we’ll get avalanches.”
North-facing slopes are the most dangerous places to be since that’s where the unstable snowpack stuck around before the storm snow fell. Slopes over 30% grade are considered avalanche terrain.
Some wind loading is taking place too, meaning snow is being moved by wind and building up in some locations, putting even more pressure on the snowpack below.
Buffalo Pass and North Routt are both avalanche-prone areas under these conditions.
“If you see fresh, recent avalanches, that’s the No. 1 sign the snowpack is unstable,” said Konigsberg. “After that, (look for) big shooting cracks in the snow, shooting cracks that come out from your skis and snowmobile, and also sometimes you can hear sounds of the snowpack collapsing. It sounds like a whoomping noise.”
If someone does spot or trigger an avalanche in the backcountry, they should report it to the CAIC under the observations section.
For those looking to get avalanche educated, consult the CAIC website.
“The most important thing right now is to check the forecast every day,” Konigsberg said. “If you go out into the backcountry, have the right rescue gear and it’s always good to continue avalanche education.”
Shelby Reardon is the assistant editor at the Steamboat Pilot & Today. To reach her, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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