Avalanche activity picks up around the region as temperatures warm

Passes closed, cars buried, skiers and riders caught and carried

By Alissa Johnson

Snow slides seemed to be everywhere last weekend. Red Lady Basin. Whetstone. Burying a maintenance road at Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR). Avalanche activity hasn’t been limited to Crested Butte, either. Slides across the region have been closing passes, burying cars, and catching skiers and riders.
Zach Guy, forecaster for the Crested Butte Avalanche Center, explained that locally, “After the storm cleared, all that snow turned wet and it’s been sliding. Because it was so warm during that storm, the snowpack below it was wet too, so we’re seeing wet, loose slides.”
In some cases, the slides are gouging down into older snow and growing bigger as a result. Up at the ski resort, crews were working at the top of Silver Queen when a slide off of Paradise Cliff crossed the road and buried their route back down the mountain.
Erica Mueller, CBMR’s director of innovations and relations, said the crew couldn’t drive back down and the resort sent a snow cat up to help them. The ski area is closed to skiing as crews prepare for summer, but the slide was a good reminder, Mueller said, that “on the resort something could slide just as easily as it could on Mt. Emmons. We’ve cleared roads, but skiing could be severely dangerous.”
While the Paradise Cliff slide did not bury any vehicles or take people for a ride, avalanches across the Colorado Rockies have done both. An avalanche closed Loveland Pass in both directions on Sunday afternoon, May 31, and buried two cars, according to Guy.
9News reported that last Thursday, an avalanche caused part of Highway 82 to be closed in both directions on Independence Pass, and the Mountain Mail of Salida reported a slide occurred on the Chaffee County side of Cottonwood Pass on Wednesday, May 27. According to the article, “It left snow on the road Wednesday afternoon but caused no other problems.”
Yet reports from forecasters at the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) indicate that slides in Summit County and near Independence Pass did affect skiers and riders.
A report from forecaster Scott Toepfer said a slide in the Elvis Chutes area of Buffalo Mountain caught and carried a splitboard rider who was “swept over a 75 to 100 ft. ice feature in a confined couloir.”
CBS Denver later reported that the rider survived his trip over the waterfall, but did break his knee. It took rescuers 12 hours to get him off the mountain.
Another report on the CAIC website indicated that a skier-triggered avalanche on the east side of Independence Pass carried a skier 200 feet but did not bury or injure anyone in the party.
The message is clear, it seems. It might be June, but avalanche danger is still a risk. “Get out early in the day if you’re going out,” Guy said, “and sometimes the snow hasn’t been refreezing well at night, in which case, it’s better to avoid avalanche terrain altogether.”

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