Unstable Snowpacks Cause Avalanches Across The West

Be on alert this weekend for instabilities in your local snowpack

Two skiers prepared to ski a run, called Whitesnake, off Gobbler's Knob in Utah's Mill A Basin before an avalanche propagated a couple hundred feet wide. PHOTO: Courtesy of KSL News
Two skiers prepared to ski a run, called Whitesnake, off Gobbler’s Knob in Utah’s Mill A Basin before an avalanche propagated a couple hundred feet wide. PHOTO: Courtesy of KSL News

Since Tuesday, January 19, four different avalanches in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and Montana have claimed the lives of four winter enthusiasts—three skiers and a snowmobiler. One of those was a ski patroller in Montana who was out with another patroller and two graduate students from Montana State University to collect snow data.

According to a study presented at the International Snow Science Workshop in 2012, in the United States, about 70 percent of fatal avalanche accidents occur within four days of the previous accident.

In the accident report for the Utah skier-triggered avalanche, where the skier was buried three to four feet deep despite wearing an airbag pack, the Utah Avalanche Center noted how complex this winter has been for snowpacks. Due to a range of weather—from dry spells to wind to heavy snowfall—it’s been textbook conditions for snowpack instabilities.

Although avalanche warning rating systems can be relatively misleading, most areas—outside of Tahoe—are reporting considerable to high avalanche danger. And remember that the considerable rating is where most avalanches occur due to “maximum interaction between people and avalanches and the uncertainty of the difference between dangerous and not-so-dangerous terrain.”

With snow forecasted this weekend for the Pacific Northwest, the Sierra, and Rockies, be sure to check your local avalanche bulletin and talk over the conditions with your ski partners before heading out.

Considerable avalanche rating in SW Montana. PHOTO: MtAvalanche.com
Considerable avalanche rating in SW Montana. PHOTO: MtAvalanche.com
Considerable to High avalanche warning in Washington. PHOTO: NWAC.us
Considerable to High avalanche warning in Washington. PHOTO: NWAC.us
Moderate to High rating in Whistler. PHOTO: Avalanche.ca
Moderate to High rating in Whistler. PHOTO: Avalanche.ca
Considerable to High avalanche rating for the Kootenays of Interior B.C. PHOTO: Avalanche.ca
Considerable to High avalanche rating for the Kootenays of Interior BC. PHOTO: Avalanche.ca
Moderate to Considerable conditions in Colorado. PHOTO: Avalanche.state.co.us
Moderate to Considerable conditions in Colorado. PHOTO: Avalanche.state.co.us
Considerable avalanche danger in the Wasatch and Uintas. PHOTO: UtahAvalancheCenter.org
Considerable avalanche danger in the Wasatch and Uintas. PHOTO: UtahAvalancheCenter.org
Moderate avalanche danger in the Sierra. PHOTO: SierraAvalancheCenter.org
Moderate avalanche danger in the Sierra. PHOTO: SierraAvalancheCenter.org