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Expert: Above-average snowfall this season has made avalanches more hazardous

Posted at 9:52 PM, Jan 25, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-25 23:52:10-05

Noah Molotch, an associate professor of snow hydrology at the University of Colorado Boulder, says increased snowfall this season has made avalanches more hazardous.

“What’s somewhat unique about this winter is that we’ve had above-average snowfall in the early part of the winter season,” he said.

However, Molotch says we could see a shift in avalanche season in the future.

“Snow is very sensitive to changes in climate,” said Molotch. “What we know is it’s going to continue to get warmer. What we haven’t been able to do scientifically is link the warming we’ve seen over the past few decades with avalanche activity. That’s very much an open question for research."

He says it’s at the hypothesis stage right now.

“With climate warming, we might hypothesize that there would be more severe avalanche risk, as more liquid water in the snowpack can diminish the stability of the snowpack,” said Molotch.

He says this could make it more dangerous for people to head into the backcountry in the spring.

Ethan Greene with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) says it’s really hard to predict avalanche conditions months and years out. However, he says the size of the avalanches will fluctuate.

“They will get smaller, and they will get bigger. We’ll see both,” said Greene. “Avalanches are heavily impacted by weather events, and so the avalanches we’re going to see on any particular day are a combination of what the weather is doing that day and what the weather is doing that season.”

Both experts say the key here is to be prepared if you decide to venture into the backcountry, because you never know what weather pattern Mother Nature will decide to bring.

“Be respectful of the mountains. The mountains are dangerous,” said Molotch. “Go out with teams that you trust, and, you know, have the equipment and training to be safe in the mountains. And when in doubt, don’t ski a line that you think is unsafe.”

Experts also can’t stress this enough: check out the avalanche forecast for the day by heading to the CAIC’s website before you head into the backcountry.

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