The good news is that winter storms are dumping multiple feet of snow across the west. The bad news is that all this snow brings significantly increased avalanche danger.
Avalanche warnings were issued in five states on Thursday; Colorado, California, Idaho, Montana, and Utah.
In Colorado, the NWS forecasts hazardous avalanche conditions on Friday and throughout Saturday. Both natural and human-triggered slides are likely.
“Expect very dangerous avalanche conditions from Friday morning through Saturday morning. You can very easily trigger avalanches large enough to bury you and many will release spontaneously. Travel in backcountry avalanche terrain is not recommended.”
The Sierra Avalanche Center issued an avalanche warning from Thursday to Friday in the Central Sierra Nevada Mountains, California.
“Heavy snow and gale-force winds will overload the weak snowpack and create very dangerous avalanche conditions. Widespread, large natural and human-triggered avalanches are very likely in exposed and sheltered terrain at all elevations. Avoid traveling on, below, or near slopes steep enough to avalanche. Avalanches may be triggered from flatter areas below, above, and to the sides of steep slopes.”
The Utah Avalanche Center issued an avalanche warning yesterday afternoon through Saturday morning for the Bear River, Wasatch, and Uinta mountain ranges.
“Widespread avalanche activity is expected and the avalanche danger will be HIGH. In effect from 3 p.m. MST this afternoon until 6 a.m. MST Saturday. For the mountains of Northern Utah including the Wasatch Range, Bear River Range, and Western Uinta Range. A rapid load of heavy snow combined with very strong winds and preexisting weaknesses in the snowpack will create very dangerous avalanche conditions. Both human triggered and natural avalanches are likely. Stay off of and out from under slopes steeper than 30 degrees.”
Avalanche warnings have been issued for the Kootenai, Selkirks & Cabinets, St. Regis & Silver Valley, Galena Summit & Eastern Mountains, Soldier & Wood River Valley Mountains, Sawtooth & Western Smoky Mountains, and Banner Summit zones in Idaho.
“Abundant snowfall and wind combined with a weak snowpack structure has created dangerous avalanche conditions at Treeline and above. Backcountry travellers should avoid travelling on or below terrain that is steeper than 30 degrees.”
In Montana, warnings have been issued in Whitefish, Apgar, Swan, Flathead, southern Glacier National Park, Seeley Lake, Rattlesnake, and Bitterroot zones. GNFAC is on the cusp of issuing avalanche warnings for the mountains around Cooke City, West Yellowstone, and Island Park.
“Heavy new snow is overloading weak layers in the snowpack. Dangerous avalanche conditions exist. The hazard will rise with continued snowfall today. Human triggered avalanches are likely, and remotely triggering an avalanche from below, beside, and above slopes is possible. Avoid avalanche terrain and stick to slopes under 30º.”
The bottom line is: avoid backcountry skiing for a few days. There’s a whole winter ahead of us, the mountains will still be there next week