The sound heard ’round the backcountry earlier this week was whumph — the last sound backcountry skiers want to hear under their feet.
“We’re very concerned here,” said Scott Toepfer, a weather and avalanche forecaster at the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. “This could be a troublesome winter for backcountry riders. So far around the Front Range, a lot of people are getting caught, a lot of snow workers are spooked.”
Last week’s arctic freeze and subsequent thaw over the weekend created dangerous avalanche conditions this week that, while lessening slowly now, the CAIC forecasters think could last for some time, Toepfer said.
“Last weekend, we had a nice little storm come in, 6 to 8 inches of snow, and a lot of wind,” Toepher said of the Front Range. “But because the foundation is so weak, it just couldn’t support even 6 to 8 inches of new snow, especially when you throw in those 30 to 40 mile per hour winds, so the snowpack just got crushed. So we had a lot of avalanches.”
Meanwhile, snow conditions at Eldora Mountain Resort are good enough to open the Corona Bowl this weekend, said spokesman Rob Linde, which is early since the resort usually aims to open it by Christmas.
“The thing that’s been very helpful is the cold temperatures,” Linde said. “We’ve had very cold temps that have allowed us to make snow on the back side, and conditions have been optimal for making a lot of high-quality snow.”
With the opening of Corona, Eldora will increase its open expert terrain to 35 percent.
Linde added that because of the early season snow, Eldora has had to manage its West Ridge and other steep terrain.
For the Colorado Avalanche Information Center’s daily forecast, visit http://avalanche.state.co.us/index.php or call 303-275-5360. Eli Helmuth’s conditions reports (and his schedule of avalanche courses) are at climbinglife.com.
“There’s up to 10 inches of new snow, then you add in 30 to 60 mile per hour winds, so no matter what time of year, that’s going to create slabs,” said Eli Helmuth, an Estes Park-based mountain guide who writes regular conditions reports on backcountry ski and ice climbing areas in Rocky Mountain National Park. Last Thursday, as Helmuth was checking conditions in lower-angle areas in the park — generally, slides happen on slopes exceeding 30 degrees — he watched straight lines crack 30 feet out from under his skis.
“If you have cracks, if you have snow collapsing under you, these are really obvious signs that it’s unstable,” Helmuth said.
If it seems like conditions are worse than usual, Toepfer said that’s because for the past few years, Front Range skiers have been spoiled with good early-season snow. Helmuth added that it’s early for good skiing, too.
“The reality is that when you look at the charts, it’s primarily March, April, May,” that backcountry ski conditions are traditionally good here, Helmuth said.
“Everybody’s waxing their skis and getting psyched for the backcountry really early.”
Since Tuesday — when a snowboarder was caught in a slide near Loveland Pass — the avalanche danger has been slowly moderating, dropping from “high” to “considerable” for the mountains just west of Boulder, said Toepfer.
“It might be a long time before we see a low avalanche danger around here again,” he said. “We’ve got a bunch of buffaloes standing on top of the weak foundation. It’s stressed right now, but if you can give the snowpack enough time, that stress lessens.”