Avalanche season arrives in Garfield County
Last winter season rewrote the avalanche record book. More snow slid off Colorado peaks than ever recorded before, which also meant more people caught in dangerous situations.
While it’s unlikely the state will see the same amount of avalanche activity this year, the dangers are already starting to show.
Grand Mesa is one of the few areas of the state to be ranked with considerable avalanche danger by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
On Thursday, a snowmobile triggered a small snow slab slide in the Grand Mesa area, and skiers triggered a larger avalanche near Kebler Pass.
The avalanche danger comes from both new, freshly fallen snow and a weak snowpack underneath, according to the report. With more snow since Christmas Day, the danger can increase.
Support Local Journalism
October’s snowstorms this year set up conditions for avalanche risk.
“That snow sat on the ground for a long time, and when that happens, it turns to weak faceted crystals that aren’t bonded well together,” said Mike Cooperstein, a forecaster at the Avalanche Information Center.
That old snow can look like little glass pellets, and when heavier snow falls on top, the loose ice crystals underneath can become overburdened and slide.
“We’ve had that stuff sitting on the ground around the state, but especially in Grand Mesa where the snowpack is pretty thin,” Cooperstein said.
“As we add new load to those weak crystals, we build a slab over the top of those weak areas, we end up getting more avalanches,” Cooperstein said, which contributes to the red flag issues on Grand Mesa.
Colorado remains the most dangerous state for avalanches.
The state recorded 4,273 slides last season, according to the Avalanche Information Center’s annual report.
Only 92 of those avalanches caught up with humans. A total of 135 people were caught in avalanches, and eight of those people died.
The best way to avoid getting caught in an avalanche is to avoid avalanche-prone spots when the danger is high.
For Grand Mesa, any peaks near treeline on northerly or easterly facing slopes could be at risk of a slide. The weak ice crystal base needs shade to develop into the shifting pellet shapes.
But other areas could exhibit the telltale signs of weak snowpack.
“What people want to look out for is cracking, collapsing in the snowpack, and recent avalanche activity,” Cooperstein said.
The Avalanche Information Center encourages backcountry visitors to read the daily avalanche outlook before venturing out. Every member of the party also should have rescue gear, including a shovel, avalanche probe and a transponder.
Support Local Journalism
Readers around Glenwood Springs and Garfield County make the Post Independent’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.
User Legend: Moderator Trusted User
Richard Miller and Allison Marcus were sentenced to 45, days in jail, 1,500 hours of useful public service and $100,000 of restitution on June 30, 2019, as their sentence for starting the Lake Christine Fire the prior year. They have made significant strides in fulfilling their debt to society, according to the district attorney’s office.