SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4)– It may be hard to believe but avalanche season is here thanks to the healthy dose of recent snow. The Colorado Department of Transportation has a new weapon in their arsenal to keep the roads clear.
Avalanche forecasters with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center want people heading into the backcountry this weekend to be aware of the risk and not caught off guard.
Avalanche experts released this update Friday on current conditions statewide:
“Our first storm for November is winding down across the state on Friday. The storm snow fell on a variety of surfaces, from bare ground, to moist facets to hard melt freeze crusts and old wind slabs. Your tour into the backcountry will likely discover a complex set of snowpack conditions. There were several avalanches reported from around the state during this storm cycle. It is now officially game on avalanche season, time to focus the avalanche eyeballs on the task at hand.
“In general, snow coverage is thin. It is building though, as recent moderate to strong winds have created deeper snowpacks on cross loaded and lee slopes.”
Almost every fall, eager riders have close calls with avalanches, according to Scott Toepfer with CAIC. Most are scary, some end in season-ending injuries, and a few end in fatalities. Since 1950-51, about 10 percent of Colorado’s avalanche fatalities have occurred in November.
“Big burst of snowfall and strong winds to the high country, we have already started getting reports of avalanches in the last few days, some have been large,” said Toepfer. “People are getting new gear, getting out after it, still often times in summer mode.”
As warnings were issued, CDOT put the final touches on their new Gazex, avalanche triggering devices.
“This is going to really help our avalanche mitigation program. It’s going to speed things up, make it more efficient,” said Toepfer.
Gazex uses massive pipes to send compressed gases into the snow, triggering avalanches. CDOT used to shoot explosives onto the side of the mountain but with Gazex, the system is automated. The system is being used on Loveland and Berthoud passes.
Additional Information from the CAIC:
The recent storm cycle added from 1 to 2 feet of storm snow across the state. Favored areas were the Steamboat, North and South San Juan, and Grand Mesa zones. No one escaped the new snow though. Thursday afternoon observers were seeing some moderate to strong wind drifting snow off ridgelines, which means lee aspect slopes to the recent west winds will have a much deeper snowpack, especially near and above treeline.
A period of warming temperatures and clear skies are on tap for the upcoming weekend. Don’t let this nice weather lure you into a sense of complacency.
AVALANCHE AND SNOWPACK
The weekend, especially Saturday, will bring nice weather and a still touchy and tender snowpack. It’s avalanche season, and reports of recent avalanche activity are filtering into CAIC.
With a nice weather weekend on tap riders will be tempted to push into new (for the season) terrain. Consider the consequences of being caught in even a small avalanche before you cross any steep, snow-covered slope. Getting raked through rocks is not the way to start the season. The new snow is covering what was previously bare ground on most slopes. It may look much better than it is, and there will be many shallowly buried obstacles.