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Avalanche risk remains considerable across much of state Monday

Avalanche on Mount Emmons in Gunnison region_CAIC
Posted at 11:46 AM, Dec 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-13 15:52:20-05

While Monday will stay sunny and there are no avalanche watches or warnings in effect in the state, much of Colorado's mountains are under considerable threat of avalanches.

Clear skies will dominate most of Colorado on Monday, but by Tuesday, gusty southwest winds will flow over Colorado, bringing snow to the San Juan Mountains by that evening. By early Wednesday, the snow will spread north across the rest of the state.

Ahead of this storm, several parts of the mountains are under considerable and moderate risk of avalanches, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC).

Here's a breakdown of the risks in each region.

Front Range | Considerable danger above treeline Monday

Backcountry adventurers can trigger dangerous avalanches on north-facing, northeast-facing and east-facing slopes in the CAIC's Front Range region. CAIC said this is especially true in areas around Rocky Mountain National Park north to Cameron Pass, as those spots received the most snow last week.

If you plan to go to these areas, look for "smooth pillows and cornices," the CAIC said, and move to lower-angle, wind-sheltered slopes if you see evidence of a previous evidence or hear cracking and collapsing in the snow. There may not be any warning signs in some places where the snowpack remains unstable. Wind alone may be enough to trigger an avalanche.

The threat will diminish slightly on Tuesday, with areas above and at treeline under a moderate threat. There is a low threat below treeline on Tuesday.

Aspen | Considerable avalanche danger Monday and Tuesday

Avalanches in the Aspen region will be less predictable, break wider and will run farther than previously this season, the CAIC said.

People exploring the Aspen backcountry may trigger an avalanche on Monday, particularly if they're on north-facing, northeast-facing or east-facing slopes, where wind-drifted snow is resting in thick slabs on top of older, weaker snow, the CAIC reported.

Give steep slopes a wide margin as avalanches can be triggered from far away in this region.

To reduce the risk of getting caught in a slide, the CAIC recommends traveling in wind-sheltered areas and avoiding travel under steep slopes. In addition, west-facing and south-facing slopes melted clean to the ground after last week's snow.

Areas above, at, and below treeline remain under considerable danger today, and only spots below treeline are downgraded to a moderate threat on Tuesday.

The storm moving in Tuesday night through Wednesday morning may keep the danger elevated for much of this week.

Gunnison | Considerable danger at and above treeline Monday

Considerable danger will be widespread in the Gunnison region both Monday and Tuesday. The only exception is Tuesday below treeline, where the threat drops to moderate.

The most easily triggered avalanches will happen on the west side of the region, which collected the most snow after last week's storms. People may trigger avalanches from a distance, CAIC said.

Slopes less than 30 degrees that face north will be the most dangerous.

The largest avalanches observed in the Central Mountains since the Dec. 10 storm were on the west side of the Aspen and Gunnison zones.

Vail and Summit County | Considerable danger at and above treeline Monday

Unexpected avalanches may happen in this region, CAIC said, especially around the western part of this zone. The most dangerous areas will be where a foot of new snow fell on old snow. Avalanches may get triggered from lower on the slope.

Recent avalanches in this area have broken and connected multiple terrain features, spreading wide across a slope.

CAIC said if you're traveling on north-facing slopes, be sure to stick to slopes less than 30 degrees. The CAIC recommends staying on slopes that face south or west for the safest options.

The threat will downgrade to moderate on Tuesday at all elevations in this zone.

Steamboat and Flat Tops | Considerable avalanche danger Monday decreases by Tuesday

Avalanches in this region can be triggered from a distance or from below, and may break wide and run farther than expected, CAIC said. They will be easy to trigger in places where wind-blown snow has collected at higher elevations.

The risk for avalanches is considerable Monday at and above treeline, but will decrease to a moderate threat Tuesday.

Sheltered areas and slopes less than about 30 degrees with no steep avalanche terrain above offer safer riding options, CAIC reports.

San Juan Mountains | Considerable danger all Monday

The San Juan Mountains, which are split into the northern and southern region, are under considerable avalanche danger Monday at and above treeline. The northern mountains in this range also have considerable danger below treeline, while the southern mountains are under a moderate threat, according to CAIC.

Slopes steeper than 35 degrees on northwest-, northeast- and east-facing slopes in the San Juans will likely see avalanches Monday if people are in these areas. Keep an eye out for wind-stiffened snow as humans can trigger a shallow slide that could lead to a deeper slide, which would result in a more dangerous avalanche. The CAIC recommends staying in lower-angled terrain away from steep overhead slopes on Monday.

Over the past week, the western San Juans saw about 30 inches of new snow, which has resulted in multiple natural and human-triggered avalanches. A west-southwest wind over the last two days has stiffened snow surfaces and created new slabs, which may be reactive to the weight of a skier or snowboarder, CAIC said.

Both regions of the San Juans were under high danger of avalanches on Friday, which decreased to considerable over the weekend and Monday.

Grand Mesa | Considerable danger Monday and Tuesday

The most dangerous areas in the Grand Mesa region are northerly slopes that help snow before last week's storms, the CAIC reported.

The safest routes to explore mountains in this area is to stick to slopes where last week's snow fell on bare ground, and to avoid traveling under or on steep slopes.

Considerable risk is prevalent near treeline both Monday and Tuesday, though no rating was available above treeline.

Sawatch | Avalanche danger may continue into this week with incoming storm

Large avalanches are possible Monday near and at treeline, with the most dangerous areas on slopes facing north, northeast and east. Drifted snow from this past weekend collected as a thick slab that is now resting on fragile snow, according to CAIC. This is mostly on the sheltered side of a ridge, along the sides of gullies and near rocky outcrops.

CAIC said travelers can reduce the risk of avalanches by staying in wind-sheltered areas at lower elevations. The risk for avalanches is considerable above treeline, but is reduced to moderate at treeline and low below treeline.

The storm moving in Tuesday and Wednesday will likely keep avalanche danger elevated for much of this week.

Sangre de Cristo | Moderate to low avalanche risk Monday and Tuesday

The risk for avalanches in the Sangre de Cristos is moderate above treeline both days and drops to low at and below treeline. The snow cover is thin in most of these areas.

Wind-drifted snow on north, northeast and east slopes may be cause for concern, so CAIC says to keep an eye out for large pillows of snow or a smooth, textured snow surface. New wind slabs may be reactive to a person standing on top of them.

This region may see an increase in danger with Tuesday's and Wednesday's storm.