The last storm left the Northern Mountains with anywhere from 6 to 12 inches of snow. Parts of the Steamboat zone, from Rabbit Ears to Buffalo Pass picked up anywhere from 14 to 24 inches. Along with all of this new snow came strong west to northwest winds. The combination of snow and wind is surely testing weak layers buried in our snowpack.
And a variety of weak layers we have. Old October snow turned into depth hoar and sits at the base of our snowpack. This is generally on shady slopes and east-facing slopes. Also we have several weak layers buried in the middle and upper portions of the pack. These layers are near-surface facets and even layers of surface hoar. These mid to upper pack layers spread around the compass to southerly slopes as well. On southerly slopes, particularly southeast, facets sits on melt-freeze crusts, providing a potential failure layer for newly wind-drifted snow. We haven't seen much avalanche activity on these sunny slopes yet, but caution is advised with the addition of wind-drifted slabs on Monday and continuing through today.
Although we haven't seen avalanches on sunny slopes, we have seen numerous avalanches on our shady and east-facing slopes. Sadly, one such avalanche resulted in the death of a skier near Cameron Pass. Conditions around Cameron Pass are not much different than other parts of the Northern Mountains region. Thick slabs of wind-drifted snow sit on numerous faceted layers and then large depth hoar at the ground.
On Monday a skier was nearly caught in an avalanche near Berthoud Pass. There have also been reports of remotely triggered avalanches from Vail Pass to Rabbit Ears Pass. All of this activity on its own should give us pause. The snowpack is reactive, avalanches are happening, and the loading from wind continues. Stick to conservative terrain choices for time being and make sure to heed obvious signs of unstable snow such as recent avalanches, shooting cracks in the snow and sounds of the snowpack collapsing.