Huge Snowfall Leads to Avalanche Danger

Two skiers died this week in avalanches across the West, ratings remain Considerable

PHOTO: David Reddick

Read your local avalanche forecast:

Bridger Teton Avalanche Center

Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center

Colorado Avalanche Center

Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center

Flathead Avalanche Center

Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center

Northwest Avalanche Center

Sierra Avalanche Center

Utah Avalanche Center

Last week’s monster storm brought huge snowfall to the West, which also means huge avalanche activity. And as high-pressure clears the sky, skiers, no doubt, will be sick with powder fever.

But please, everyone, be safe.

This week, two skiers perished in avalanches. Ben Parsons, 36, a firefighter and paramedic with the Whitefish Fire Department in Montana, died Thursday from trauma sustained in an avalanche on Stanton Mountain. At Crystal Mountain, Washington, a 64-year-old woman was swept and killed in an avalanche Wednesday just beyond the ski resort boundary. In the Sierra Nevada, two backcountry skiers triggered a deep slab Thursday on a slope above Mount Rose Highway, which connects Lake Tahoe to Reno. The avalanche slid down to rain crust from a storm on December 15. Thankfully, no one was hurt—the skiers walked off the mountain after rescue crews responded. However, the slide caught two vehicles driving on the highway below and got them stuck in several feet of snow.

California ski resorts are reporting up to 7 feet of fresh snow from storms this week, with several feet falling in Utah, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, and Wyoming. Mix in leftover holiday crowds at ski resorts and a streak of drought years in California—in Heuristic terms, that’d be scarcity—with rain crusts leftover from December, high winds, and that adds up to avalanche danger.

Be wary of persistent deep slabs this weekend. PHOTO: Ian Coble
Be wary of persistent deep slabs this weekend. PHOTO: Ian Coble

Already, avalanche ratings are dropping. In California, the Tahoe region went from High to today’s Moderate rating. But don’t be deceived. The forecast still calls for deep slab and wind slab avalanches, stating: “Large avalanches with severe consequences could be human triggered today. Cautious route finding and conservative decision making are essential.”

The rating is Considerable throughout Utah, Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming. More avalanche-caused deaths occur when conditions are Considerable than any other rating.

A huge shoutout to the ski patrollers who are working well beyond overtime to make our ski resorts safe, and to the avalanche forecasters who give us the tools, resources, and information to ski in safe terrain in the backcountry.