Saturday, February 25, 2023

Recreation Highlight: Use Caution on Avalanche Terrain

Winter landscape

DEC is advising backcountry downhill skiers, snowboarders, and all outdoor adventurers who may traverse slides or steep, open terrain in the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks to be aware of and prepared for avalanche conditions.

Avalanche danger increases during and immediately after major snowfalls and during thaws. Recent warm weather brought significant melting and settling of snow before a winter storm Wednesday night into Thursday brought several inches of fresh snow to the High Peaks region, with new accumulations close to a foot in some places. Snow may be 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 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.

Take the following precautions when traveling in avalanche-prone terrain:

  • Ensure all members of the group know basic avalanche rescue techniques;
  • 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-never expose more than one person at a time to avalanche prone slopes;
  • 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;
  • Never travel alone; and
  • Always inform someone about where you are going and when you expect to return home.

If you are planning a trip to avalanche-prone territory, research the route ahead of time and contact a local DEC Forest Ranger for specific safety and conditions information, or contact a local guide. To contact a Forest Ranger for information about a specific location, the DEC website has phone numbers for every Ranger listed by region.

Skiers and snowboarders should assess their own experience level before going into the backcountry and should be equipped with avalanche safety tools and knowledge, such as participation in an avalanche safety course. Backcountry rescues take time. Be prepared with the skills and equipment required for self-rescue. If you are unsure about conditions, stick to designated trails within the trees or pursue an alternate plan.

Additional information on avalanche danger, preparedness, and safety precautions is available on the DEC website.


Photo at top: NYS DEC photo.

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Information attributed to NYSDEC is taken from press releases and news announcements from New York State's Department of Environmental Conservation.

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