If the recent snowfall has you itching to grab some early season powder turns you will want to take note of a recent avalanche warning issued by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC), reports the Sky-Hi News.
Wednesday morning CAIC issued an avalanche warning for the northern and central mountains in Colorado. The CAIC notes that backcountry travelers could now trigger dangerous avalanches near or above treeline. These warnings are especially pertinent in Grand County where Berthoud Pass is a popular backcountry skiing destination that provides easy access to avalanche terrain.
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The CAIC’s warning Wednesday morning comes after a significant slide was triggered on an easterly slope of Loveland Pass Monday. That followed avalanche mitigation work conducted by CDOT on Loveland Pass the previous day, in the Seven Sisters area. Officials from the CAIC noted the release of natural and remote-triggered avalanches on Loveland Pass provides “all the evidence we need to know that northerly and easterly slopes above about 11,000 feet are dangerous.”
“You are most likely to encounter dangerous avalanche conditions, and trigger larger avalanches, on previously wind-loaded slopes that face north through northeast to east,” stated officials from CAIC. “In these areas, the newly drifted snow is layered on top of older, weak snow near the ground.”
The CAIC explained that drifted snow spots often look smooth and round, can feel stiff and will sometimes sound hollow. The avalanche center warns that these deeper deposits of new and wind-drifted snow will likely be found “along and just below ridgelines, or in concave gullies near and above treeline.”
Anyone traveling through the backcountry, or looking to carve lines on Berthoud Pass, will want to watch for signs of cracking or collapsing snow, which indicates unstable snowpack.
“If you encounter these conditions you should avoid travel on and under steeper slopes on similar aspects,” officials from the CAIC stated. “If you trigger, and are caught in an avalanche, it will be large enough to know you off your feet, drag you through the rocks, take you for a dangerous ride, and possibly bury you.”
The CAIC is urging extreme caution on northeast to east facing slopes in the northern and central mountains of the state. The CAIC noted, “you may even be able to trigger avalanches while approaching slopes, from the bottom of slopes, or remotely from adjacent slopes.”
The state avalanche forecasters did offer one bright spot for anxious backcountry riders. The CAIC anticipates natural avalanche activity winding down soon, so long as no new loading events occur in the near future. The CAIC qualified that statement though by adding:
“It is important to remember that recent avalanche activity is a sign of an unstable snowpack. You should avoid riding on similar aspects where you see signs of recent avalanche activity.”
Officials from the CAIC noted the Catch-22 nature of current conditions.
“Unfortunately, the areas where you find consistent snow coverage and best riding in the Northern and Central Mountains are also the areas where you are most likely to trigger a dangerous avalanche,” officials stated. “Where it is deep enough to ride, its deep enough to slide.”
The CAIC recommends avoiding areas below ridgelines, in concave gullies and steep rollovers where several feet of new and wind-drifted snow has settled above very weak early season snow near the ground.