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Thursday, October 10, 2019 at 9:19 AM Issued by: Brian Lazar  

Fall Avalanche Safety

Colorado is getting its first measurable snowfall of the season. Snowfall is well distributed, with nearly all mountain ranges in the state seeing some accumulating snow. The deepest totals thus far are in the Northern and Central mountains with areas from McClure Pass north to Loveland Pass, Winter Park, and Steamboat picking up as much as 5 or 6 inches.

There isn't yet enough snow to raise serious avalanche concerns, but it is time to start thinking about avalanches on steep, snow-covered slopes. Once snow piles up or drifts deep enough to obscure the ground cover avalanches are possible. This doesn't take much on grassy slopes or steep rock slabs. 

Nearly every fall, avalanches catch eager riders and late-season hikers off-guard. Hunters traveling through the high country need to exercise caution on steep, snow covered terrain. Please be thinking avalanche if you visit steep slopes in the high country. Below we describe some considerations for early-season fall avalanche concerns.

We will update the Statewide Avalanche Conditions as necessary. On November 1, 2019, we will resume our daily weather forecasts. Our backcountry avalanche forecasts will begin in mid-November.

If you are going into the Colorado high country use our Weather Stations by Zone page to check current conditions.

Weather Discussion

You can get current weather forecasts from the National Weather Service.

Our computer Model Forecasts update four times a day and will run through the summer. If you are going into the Colorado high country, use our Weather Stations by Zone page to check current conditions.

Check the National Weather Service and the CAIC’s model forecasts to get a current weather forecast before you head to the mountains. 

Avalanche and Snowpack Discussion

Avalanches are possible in the mountains of Colorado whenever you find snow on a steep slope. In general, you should consider the consequences of being caught in an avalanche before you cross any steep, snow-covered slope, but below are some avalanche problems you may encounter over the summer. We will update the Field Report and Avalanche Observations as information comes in, so please send us your observations.

Storm Slabs, Wind Slabs, and Loose Dry Avalanches

Most avalanches happen during or right after a snowstorm. Later in the spring and throughout the summer, snowstorms are less likely. However, every time new snow falls and the wind drifts it through the terrain, these avalanches are possible. It is easier to trigger avalanches when new snow falls on hard, icy surfaces, so a summer snowstorm can produce many small avalanches if it falls onto old snow. Even small avalanches are dangerous if they push you off a cliff, or into rocks, trees, or a gully. The best way to manage these avalanches in the summer is to have a current weather forecast, recognize when there is enough new snow to produce storm avalanches, and select terrain that minimizes your exposure to the risk. Avoid areas where there was old snow under the recent snow, wind pillows along ridgelines, and cross-loaded features like rock outcrops and subridges.

Wet Slab and Loose Wet Avalanches

As the snow heats up and begins to melt, water moving through the snowpack can produce avalanches. Watch the overnight low temperatures at high-elevation weather stations, but remember that air temperature, cloud cover, and wind all affect how the snow freezes each night. Regardless of what wet avalanche you are worried about, remember to stay off and out from under steep snow-covered slopes when you start to sink into the wet snow more than about 6 inches.

The most common wet avalanches are loose, sluff or point-release avalanches. These are most dangerous if they push you off a cliff, or into rocks, trees, or a gully. Travel when the snow surface is colder and stronger. Plan your trips to avoid crossing on or under very steep slopes in the afternoon. Move to colder, shadier slopes once the snow surface turns slushy. Avoid steep, sun-lit slopes above terrain traps,cliffs areas and long sustained steep pitches

Wet Slab avalanches are more dangerous. These often occur when melt flow of liquid melt water weakens the bond between the slab and the surface below (snow or ground). The snow conditions that produce Wet Slab avalanches last longest on high-elevation, northerly slopes as we move into summer. Look at the old snow layers to see if they are still dry or turning to coarse springtime snow. In many cases, snow conditions are poor when Wet Slabs are a significant problem. Most people leave the mountains or find places with firmer, less slushy snow and away from the slopes where Wet Slabs are a problem. Avoid terrain where and when you suspect Wet Slab avalanches. Give yourself a wide safety buffer to handle the uncertainty

Cornice Fall

Throughout the winter, strong winds build large overhanging snow features along ridgelines. These cornices can break off at any time of year, but periods of significant temperature warm-up during the spring are times to be particularly aware. Cornices can never be trusted and avoiding them is necessary for safe backcountry travel. Stay well back from ridgeline areas with cornices. Avoid areas underneath cornices. If your route goes under one, use a similar approach as Wet Slab avalanches, look for a good overnight freeze, and try to get past them early in the day. Remember that the sun may hit them earlier than it hits the slopes below them.

Thanks for another great season, and we will see you again in Fall 2019! Have a safe and enjoyable summer!

 
  • Winter park snow stake on the morning of October 10, 2019 (full)
  • Loveland Basin ski area snow stake around 1AM on Oct 10, 2019. (full)

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Avalanche Observations
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Field Reports
Report Date Observer Snowpack Obs Avalanches Media

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Weather Observations
Station Date Time Temperature Relative Humidity Wind Speed Wind Direction Max Gust 24 Hr Snow
Steamboat Lake State Park Sun Oct 13 8:00 PM 35 32 1 235 3 1.0
Bottle Peak Sun Oct 13 8:00 PM 37 14 11 267 12 -
Berthoud Pass Sun Oct 13 8:00 PM 35 16 8 225 14 -
Cameron Pass Sun Oct 13 7:00 PM 37 15 11 213 22 -
Kendall Mt Sun Oct 13 8:00 PM 30 31 14 163 24 -
Loveland Pass Sun Oct 13 8:00 PM 35 17 11 229 18 -
Molas Pass Sun Oct 13 8:00 PM 39 25 8 248 13 0.5
Vail Pass - Cdot Yard Sun Oct 13 8:00 PM 32 27 1 73 2 -
Monarch Pass (050e200) Sun Oct 13 8:54 PM 35 18 2 75 9 -
Independence Pass (082w062) Sun Oct 13 8:54 PM - 11 - 5 - -
Ripple Creek Sun Oct 13 7:00 PM - - 1 204 - 1.0
Schofield Pass Sun Oct 13 7:00 PM - - 0 73 - 2.0
Taylor Park Sun Oct 13 7:57 PM 39 11 7 231 10 -

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