Avalanche Advisories as Winter Keeps Dumping In
by Leadville Today contributor, Brennan Ruegg
Avalanche conditions in the Sawatch Zone, including Leadville and Lake County, have increased from Moderate (2) to Considerable (3) in recent days as another storm moved westward into the high country. Monitored by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC), advisories may rise again depending on continuing weather patterns through the coming weeks. Below is a video provided by the CAIC demonstrating features of persistent slab avalanche, and testing practices they use to determine conditions.
Everyone in the backcountry is strongly advised to practice cautious route finding and conservative decision-making. Zones surrounding Sawatch including Aspen, Gunnison, and Northern San Juan have instated High (4) levels of avalanche warning.
January 2016 has seen dramatic avalanche activity across the western states, causing ten fatalities within ten days, two of which occurred here in Colorado. In Clear Creek County northwest of Idaho Springs, a rescue dog recovered a climber’s body in the aftermath of an avalanche estimated to have been 1,200 feet wide and four feet deep. The other fatality occurred west of Crested Butte on January 21. Eleven avalanche-related deaths across the nation this month make it the deadliest January in nearly two decades.
“Persistent Slab” is the type of Avalanche presently at risk of occurring. This is when a large top slab of the snowpack releases from an underlying soft, weak layer. These weak layers can produce continual avalanches in the same place for days, and can be triggered by light loads. The unpredictable hazards are best dealt with by conservative terrain choices, or by just staying closer to home.
The CAIC monitors ten zones across Colorado, and provide a wealth of preventative and cautionary information on their website. Read more about the CAIC here. Leadville Today will continue to cover changes in forecast and advisory as they occur. Be safe and think critically!
Brennan is from Akron, OH, where snow stays put.