The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is advising backcountry downhill skiers, hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts that fluctuating temperatures of late have increased the risk of an avalanche in the High Peaks Region of the Adirondacks.
“Recent storms have resulted in a significant amount of new snow, and we expect an increase in temperatures and the number of recreational enthusiasts visiting the High Peaks to snowshoe, cross-country ski, and enjoy the pristine surroundings,” a statement to the press by DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said. “We are cautioning anyone planning to traverse backcountry slides and other avalanche-prone terrain in the High Peaks to be extremely careful and be prepared for avalanche conditions.”
The Adirondacks have received approximately 18 to 26 inches of new snow in the past two weeks on top of the previous snowpack, which has distinct layers formed by rain, melting and fluctuating temperatures recently. Due to high winds, snows depths are deeper on leeward slopes or areas of snow deposits, such as gullies. Snow depths in the mountains range from 3 to 5 feet. Lower snow layers may be reactive to the added stresses of the recent snows creating conditions conducive to avalanches.
Avalanches can occur in any situation where snow, slope and weather conditions combine to create the proper conditions. While the majority of steep open terrain is found in the High Peaks, avalanche prone terrain is also found on mountains throughout other areas in the Adirondacks, including Snow Mountain in Hamilton County. The US Forest Service Mount Washington Avalanche Center has issued a backcountry avalanche warning for the Cutler River drainage on the east side of Mount Washington including in Tuckerman and Huntington ravines.
Avalanche danger increases during and immediately after major snowfalls and during thaws. The forecast for this weekend is for mostly sunny and partly sunny skies with temperatures climbing into the 40s. While this weather is appealing to outdoor enthusiasts it also increases the danger of avalanches.
The majority of avalanches in the United States occur in the western mountains. However, avalanches do occur in New York and can have dire consequences. One person was killed and five people were injured in an avalanche while they were skiing a slide on Wright Peak in the High Peaks region in February 2000.
DEC reminds back country winter recreationists to take the following precautions when traveling in avalanche prone terrain:
- Cross-country skiers and snowshoers should stay on trails and away from steep slopes on summits.
- Know the terrain, weather and snow conditions.
- Dig multiple snow pits to conduct stability tests – do not rely on other people’s data.
- Practice safe route finding and safe travel techniques.
- Never ski, board, or climb with someone above or below you – only one person on the slope at a time.
- Ski and ride near trees – not in the center of slides or other open areas.
- Always carry a shovel, probes and a transceiver with fresh batteries.
- Ensure all members of the group know avalanche rescue techniques.
- Never travel alone.
- Let someone know where you are going.
Additional information on avalanche danger, preparedness and safety precautions is available on DEC’s web site (http://www.dec.ny.gov/public/