Backcountry downhill skiers, snowboarders, and others who may traverse slides or steep, open terrain in the High Peaks Region of the Adirondacks should be aware of and prepared for avalanche conditions, advises the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).
Avalanche danger increases during and immediately after major snowfalls and during thaws. The High Peaks have received approximately five to six feet of snow, with the majority accumulating over the last two weeks. Due to high winds, snow depths are deeper on leeward slopes or areas of snow deposits, such as gullies. As snow accumulates over time it develops distinct layers formed by rain and melt/freeze cycles. When new snow falls onto previous snowpack, it adds weight and downward pressure. Lower snow layers may be reactive to the added stresses of 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 region of the Adirondacks, avalanche-prone terrain is found on mountains throughout the Adirondacks, including Snowy Mountain in Hamilton County.
DEC reminds backcountry 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 transceiver with fresh batteries;
- Ensure all members of the group know avalanche rescue techniques;
- Never travel alone; and
- Always inform someone about where you are going.
Additional information on avalanche danger, preparedness, and safety precautions is available on the DEC website.
Avalanche anatomy illustration courtesy T3 Adventures/Almanack archive