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Sunday, June 5, 2022 at 4:25 PM Issued by: Mike Cooperstein  

Summer Avalanche Safety

 

Avalanches are possible any time you find snow on steep slopes in Colorado. Although accidents are less likely in the summer, there have been fatal accidents every month of the year. Below is some general avalanche safety advice for the spring and summer.

 

Weather

 

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.

 

Avalanche and Snowpack Discussion

 

Avalanches are possible in the mountains of Colorado whenever you find snow on a steep slope. You should consider the consequences of being caught in an avalanche before crossing any steep, snow-covered slope.

 

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, sunlit 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 meltwater 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.

 

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 of. Cornices can never be trusted, and avoiding them is necessary for safe backcountry travel. Stay well back from the edge of 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.

 

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. 

 

 

 

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Avalanche Observations
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Field Reports
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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 Jul 3 4:00 PM 62 80 3 117 8 0.4
Cameron Pass Sun Jul 3 4:00 PM 57 62 1 75 3 1.2
Kendall Mt Sun Jul 3 4:00 PM 47 76 9 170 18 -
Loveland Pass Sun Jul 3 4:00 PM 45 77 11 230 33 -
Molas Pass Sun Jul 3 4:00 PM 57 63 4 204 12 -
Putney Sun Jul 3 4:00 PM 51 84 8 118 15 -
Vail Pass - Cdot Yard Sun Jul 3 4:00 PM 52 79 2 181 9 -
Wolf Creek Pass Sun Jul 3 4:00 PM 49 91 9 203 17 -
Storm Peak Observatory Sun Jul 3 5:05 PM 53 84 9 338 13 -
Taylor Park Sun Jul 3 4:57 PM 50 84 8 209 24 -
Berthoud Pass Sun Jul 3 3:00 PM 58 57 1 93 - -

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