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Avalanche Forecaster Sees A Very Touchy Snowpack In The High Country

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Tim Brown with CAIC checks the snowpack (credit: CBS)

Tim Brown with CAIC checks the snowpack (credit: CBS)

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SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – Dangerous conditions are forming in the high country. In many parts of the mountains the avalanche conditions are rated at considerable.

There was a tragic incident involving a ski patroller at Snowmass on Sunday who was swept over a cliff and killed after triggering a small avalanche. And on Vail Pass two men were skiing and caused an avalanche. One was totally buried while the other was wearing a new airbag backpack and was able to save his friend.

The latest incidents just show the weak snowpack is quite dangerous.

On Wednesday CBS4’s Jeff Todd met with Tim Brown, a forecaster from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, to dig a snow pit to see what he found in the snowpack.

“We’re seeing a very touchy snowpack, so there are a lot of places where you can get the snow to collapse,” Brown said.

Brown took small cross-section of the snowpack and began tapping on it to see what happened.

“So right away we see the snow that’s been drifted by the wind, and then there’s another layer,” he said.

Experts say the early season snowfall has created a weak base layer that’s making many slopes prone to slides.

“Large, loosely-packed angular grains with that snow; can’t even really make a snowball out of it.”

In the past decade Colorado has seen more than 50 deaths. And with last year having some of the worst conditions in recent memory, there’s the potential for 2013 to be on the same course.

“If we get just a little bit of snow over time, the snowpack will be able to adjust pretty well. If we get a big storm all at once, we will see an avalanche.”

Avalanches don’t only affect backcountry skiers and snowboarders. The Colorado Department of Transportation manages nearly 300 known avalanche paths that affect highways throughout the state.

LINK: Colorado Avalanche Information Center

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