For many regions in the U.S., winter has hit full-force. The early heavy snow has hit Colorado with many ski resorts reporting 30 to 40 inches of fresh snow. But, with the October snow fall weakened by subsequent high temperatures, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) has formally issued warnings urging backcountry athletes to decrease outdoor activity for the coming days. CAIC is advising that athletes approach all terrain with caution and currently stick to slopes below 30 degrees.
While short of a complete warning, the CAIC has broadcast an avalanche advisory for large portions of the state. Northwest, north, and northeastern facing slopes pose a particular danger to the public since they currently still hold snow from October snowfalls, which have become an especially weak base layer for activity.
Due to the recent heavy snow and high winds, above tree line slopes are experiencing severe wind loading – so severe that there is potential for up to two-foot thick slab avalanches, according to Summit Daily. And because of west-to-east winds, eastern facing slopes are especially at risk.
The lack of a substantial base in the snowpack, defined as a mass of snow that is hardened by its own weight, is typical for this time of year. But the heavy pre-Thanksgiving dump of this week is not. And concealed debris, dead trees and barely covered rocks, hide just below the snow’s surface posing real dangers.
When snow falls later in the year and the weather stays cold, the snow often creates a more solid snowpack for years to come. For the past two years, the state saw early snowfall followed by long periods of warm temperature, thus creating an avalanche-prone unstable base.