The string of rider-triggered avalanches continues in the North San Juan zone with another one reported Monday on Red Mountain Pass. Avalanches, surface cracking, whumpfing collapses, and propagating stability test all point to unstable snow and should be a solid reminder that you can trigger a large and dangerous avalanche. You could trigger a slide from a distance and they could involve the entire season’s snowpack.
In the race between the rabbit and the tortoise, you can think of weak faceted snow as the tortoise. Until the snowpack becomes deeper, these buried weak layers will only get worse before getting stronger. Time may be the best option.
Surface instabilities gain strength more quickly and recent warm temperatures will help the surface snow consolidate. Slopes where thick and firm wind-drifted slabs exist above weak snow are most problematic and where we are seeing the most avalanche activity. These slopes are mostly found near and above treeline.
Steep slopes below treeline continue to be touchy in the North San Juan zone. These slopes are where the greatest uncertainty exists. On many below treeline slopes, the snow surface has transitioned to weak and cohesionless. Other below treeline slopes continue to produce propagating results in stability test indicating that the softer surface slab is still sensitive. Although avalanches in wind-sheltered areas may be smaller, you may want to avoid steep northerly or easterly-facing slopes that end in terrain traps like gullies or large stands of trees.
There is a west-to-east gradient in danger across the Southern Mountains with the bulls-eye of instability in the mountains around Silverton and Telluride. Evaluate snow and terrain carefully and identify wind-loaded terrain features of concern. This will help reduce your risk to avalanches. In the end if stability is the question, terrain is the number one answer.