New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has announced backcountry downhill skiers, snowboarders, and others who may traverse slides and other steep open terrain in the Adirondacks must be aware of the risk of avalanche this weekend.
Snow depths in the High Peaks’ high elevation slopes range from two to five feet and an additional foot or more of snow is expected this weekend. The new snow will fall on the current snow pack, which already has distinct layers formed by rain and melt/freeze cycles. Due to high winds, snows depths are deeper on leeward slopes or areas of snow deposits, such as gullies. 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 combine to create the proper conditions. While much of the steep open terrain is found in the High Peaks Region of the Adirondacks, avalanche-prone terrain is found on mountains throughout the Adirondacks, including Snowy Mountain in Hamilton County.
Avalanche danger increases during and immediately after major snowfalls and during thaws. 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 the northeast and can have dire consequences. Last year, Vermont State Police, multiple volunteer search and rescue groups, and resort ski patrols received dozens of calls for assistance resulting in more than 30 skiers and snowboarders requiring rescue. In February 2018, a skier on Wright Peak was trapped in waist-deep snow. He escaped uninjured with the assistance of his companions. This is the same peak where one person was killed and five people were injured in an avalanche while skiing 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 avoid 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 shovel, probes, and transceiver with fresh batteries;
- Ensure all members of the group know avalanche rescue techniques;
- Never travel alone; and
- Notify someone about where you are going.
Additional information on avalanche danger, preparedness, and safety precautions is available on the DEC website.
Photo of expected snowfall map for January 19-20 courtesy National Weather Service.