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Avalanche risk high after storm

Only those with expert knowledge of backcountry conditions and avalanche safety should venture into out-of-bounds terrain, following the weekend snowstorm that buried the Tahoe-Truckee area.

The Sierra Avalanche Center issued an avalanche hazard rating of considerable Monday, indicating that human-triggered avalanches are a probability and natural avalanches remain likely. The center updates its hazard rating daily.

“The majority of avalanche activity should occur within the new snow on wind-loaded slopes,” read a report issued by the avalanche center on Monday.



Avalanche conditions are expected to stabilize as a modest-sized storm sweeps over the area the next few days, according to the report.

“A lot of it is weather dependent, of course,” said Randall Osterhuber, a snow hydrologist with the Central Sierra Snow Laboratory in Soda Springs.



Osterhuber said he agreed with the avalanche center’s risk rating of considerable. The recent storms brought in feet of fresh snow, high winds and colder temperatures, which are all factors that come into play in making an avalanche forecast.

Several avalanches were intentionally triggered on Mt. Judah Sunday, according to the avalanche center’s report. Ski cuts and cornices triggered slides in the snowpack’s upper layers. Deep snow on Mt. Rose prompted similar activity.

“Mt. Rose Ski Patrol reported that ski cutting and simply approaching slopes on skis released several avalanches on similar weak layers during the morning’s control work,” the report stated.

The report listed several weaknesses in the snowpack that led to the center’s description of the hazard rating as considerable.

Changes in the snowpack’s density and crystal-type, combined with such variables as snowfall intensity, winds and temperatures, all made for unstable conditions in the upper layers of the new snow, according to the report.

Several slabs of snow slid on Sunday, the report noted. And the weaknesses were expected to remain active through Monday.

The report went on to say that the lower layers in the snowpack, left by wetter and older storms, did not seem to yield any activity.

“These layers will be hard to trigger since they are buried so deeply,” the report stated. “However, failure in these layers is not impossible.”

For those braving the hazardous backcountry conditions, Osterhuber recommended keeping tabs on the daily advisories provided by the Sierra Avalanche Center, as well as approach any steep, heavily loaded terrain with caution. Out-of-bounds adventurers should be on the lookout for signs of instability, such as cracking or if the snow is sliding naturally.

“When you’re skiing in the backcountry with this much snow, it’s always wise to be very cautious,” Osterhuber said.


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