During the past week backcountry skiers have triggered more than 10 avalanches in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. Although nobody was seriously injured there have been some dangerous close calls.
There were six reports of skier-triggered San Juan avalanches in the Wolf Creek Pass area. And another five in the western San Juan Mountains.
One skier was caught in two avalanches. They were caught and carried about 100 to 130 feet and deployed an airbag. The skier was “pushed and knocked around but able to stay upright.”
The skier then came to a stop and got the airbag operational again. Attempting to ski down, the skier was caught in a second avalanche, carried another 100 to 130 feet and deployed the airbag again.
The unstable snowpack is a result of early season snow in October and dry weather for weeks in November, causing the snowpack to become weak. Then, additional snow on top of that weak layer causes avalanches.
“We have a block of harder snow over a section of weak sugary facets of the ground, so we have something over nothing," said Dave Zinn, avalanche expert. "This is the recipe for an avalanche, all you need now is a steep slope and a trigger.”
“Really watch out for those signs of instability -- like shooting cracks. Do some avalanche testing - dig stability tests, do an extended column test, see if you get stable results," said Zinn. "And if you don't see (stable results), find a different slope."
A final report on a fatal skier triggered avalanche that killed two Durango backcountry skiers last weekend says it appears the skiers likely triggered the slide while climbing up an avalanche path.
The skier triggered avalanche occurred on a steep slope above tree line. “They went on a day that wasn’t a good day to be there,” the official report said. Other skiers in the area that day were interviewed. They mostly stayed in lower angle areas and in the trees. They noted the dangerous conditions on the higher, steeper and open slopes.
An avalanche swept a snowboarder into a tree on Tuesday afternoon. It happened on Snodgrass Mountain near Crested Butte. The snowboarder was on a split board.
While there have been several media worthy avalanche accidents already this season the official fatality list shows none in the US so far.
Nearly 40% of the people caught in an avalanche last season had taken a traditional style formal Level 1 avalanche class. About 70% had intermediate or advanced avalanche training. This mirrors previous research.
The high pressure over Utah is finally breaking down and snow showers are expected this weekend. While that’s good news for the ski resorts, the conditions in the backcountry will become dangerous – even deadly conditions could exist.
The extreme avalanche situation in East Tyrol was made clear by an avalanche on Saturday evening in Prägraten am Großvenediger. Four houses and one vehicle were damaged. People were not injured. There were other snow avalanches with individual damaged buildings.