A backcountry skier was caught carried and injured in an avalanche on Telescope Mountain near the town of Rico on Tuesday. This avalanche looks eerily similar to the avalanche that injured a skier near the town of Ophir less than a week ago. There are a couple different persistent weak layers buried in the snowpack that you should watch out for. First, weak near-surface facets that developed in late February are now buried under March snowfall. Lower down and closer to the ground, weak facets and depth hoar comprise the lower part of the snowpack where mid-winter snow depths were shallowest, generally less than 120 cm deep. It is essential that before you commit to slopes steeper than 35 degrees you look to determine if this poor structure exists and how reactive it remains. If you’re unable to determine how reactive these weak layers are, stick to slopes less 35 degrees to help reduce your avalanche risk. Always remember that if stability is the question, you can find plenty of safe options on lower angle slopes.
Conditions at present seem to be more dangerous in the North San Juan zone in areas around Highway 145 and in areas east of Silverton. You can find similar conditions in the western half of the South San Juan zone from the La Plata Mountains northward to the Molas Pass as well. Avalanche activity near Wolf Creek Pass has been very limited recently with mostly small avalanche sin the surface snow. We have not had a report of a rider-triggered slide failing on persistent weak layers around Wolf Creek pass in a few weeks.
Yesterday observers reported numerous wet avalanches at all elevations. Some of these avalanches were large enough to injure you. In areas in the Red Mountain Pass-Telluride-Ophir triangle, where recent snowfall is deepest, expect loose wet slides to be larger and more dangerous. Keep your head on a swivel and watch out from rollerballs and pinwheels as initial clues the snow surface is quickly warming.
Cornices have grown large rather quickly. It’s best to give these beasts extra room while traveling above as they have a tendency to break further back onto ridgelines than you might expect. This kind of large force or trigger can sometimes be just enough to unleash a bigger slide below.
If you are recreating, please do so responsibly. This includes following social distancing requirements, not taking actions that risk pulling emergency service workers away from the important work they’re doing, or compromising their ability to continue that work. Learn more about the CAIC’s work during the pandemic here.
Governor Polis issued a Statewide Stay-at-Home order on March 25, 2020 - Learn more here
Many of Colorado’s counties have issued public health orders that affect travel and recreation. You can start your search for local information here. Here is some information for this zone: San Miguel County, San Juan County, Ouray County, and Hinsdale County