A Changing Landscape: Be prepared for winter backcountry recreation!
It’s truly amazing what a differences a few days can make to our mountain landscape! As the clouds lift from this past storm cycle, the lifts are spinning at Vail and Beaver Creek, a layer of snow coats the valley floor, and the spring-like conditions of just a week ago seem like a distant memory. While the resort experience at Vail and Beaver Creek is what our valley is known for, many of us enjoy the solitude of the backcountry. After a dry November, we are itching to break out our snowshoes and skis and explore!
After last March’s historic avalanche cycle, the power of our mountains is still fresh in our minds. While the snow is not yet deep enough to produce avalanches of the scale seen last spring, our snowpack has quietly been setting up in a very similar fashion to last year. While we were enjoying an extended mountain biking and hiking season this past November, high on the northern and eastern faces of our mountains, October’s snow has been rotting. This weak and sugary snow, also known as faceted snow, is being buried by the more cohesive mid-winter snowpack that is currently falling. This sets up like a layer of fragile champagne glasses supporting a heavy table—brake one glass and the table collapses. It was a very similar layer of snow, referred to as a persistent weak layer, which failed last March causing the unprecedented avalanche cycle which we all witnessed. With a couple feet of new snow falling in the mountains over the past week, Colorado’s infamous persistent weak layer is back in play. Whether you take to the mountains on snowshoes or skis, it is time to start checking your regional avalanche forecast and making wise terrain choices.
Every year hikers & snowshoes find themselves unwittingly travelling through avalanche terrain. This terrain does not have to be the wide open alpine slopes that you’ve seen release large and destructive avalanches on YouTube videos. Steep road cuts, isolated roll-overs, and valley bottom trails can all be subject to avalanche danger under the right conditions. Many of the popular hiking trails in our valley, such as Booth Creek, Uneva Peak, and even East Lake Creek travel through avalanche terrain.
Before venturing into the backcountry take the time to attend a local avalanche awareness seminar, and always remember to check the avalanche forecast from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center for the Vail/Summit zone at https://avalanche.state.co.us.
If you’re interested diving deeper into the science of Colorado’s Snowpack, keep an eye on Walking Mountains’ backcountry snowshoe schedule. We will be offering regular snowshoe hikes focused on snow science,* and how this applies to avalanches & Colorado’s winter wildlife! Enjoy a snowshoe on beautiful trails near Minturn or Redcliff and dig in the snow with us—you may be surprised at what you find! Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on these, and similar programs.
*Walking Mountains Snow Science Programs & Hikes are not avalanche education programs and do not substitute for taking an Avalanche Awareness Class or Avalanche Level 1 Course.