Last Thursday, January 17th, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) issued a warning of an increased risk of avalanches in the Adirondacks. The alert reminded backcountry downhill skiers, snowboarders, and others who traverse slides and other steep open terrain to be aware of the risk of avalanche.
The snow pack already had distinct layers formed by rain and melt/freeze cycles before a major storm dumped 1-2 feet of snow across the Adirondacks last Saturday night and Sunday. Avalanche danger increases during and immediately after major snowfalls and during thaws, such as we had yesterday (Thursday), when temperatures reached near 40 across the Adirondacks.
Snow depths in the High Peaks’ higher elevation slopes range from three to five feet and additional snow is possible this weekend. 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 or thaws, 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.
According to Mike Lynch, at Adirondack Explorer, a skier was trapped in waist-deep snow during an avalanche on Wright Peak last February, where a skier was killed in 2000. Phil Brown wrote a short history of Adirondack avalanches for the Adirondack Almanack in 2010 – you can read that story HERE.
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.
Be Prepared: Properly prepare and plan before entering the backcountry. Visit DEC’s Adirondack Trail Information webpage for more information about where you intend to travel. The Adirondack Almanack reports weekly Outdoor Conditions each Thursday afternoon; those are typically updated again by Friday afternoon.
Avalanche anatomy illustration courtesy T3 Adventures (t3-adventures.com).