By Mike Lynch
The state Department of Environmental Conservation has issued an avalanche advisory for the High Peaks and other avalanche-prone terrain.
The advisory, sent Saturday, was intended to warn skiers, climbers and snowboarders before a storm during the traditionally busy President’s Day weekend. That weather never materialized but another storm is expected to dump as much as a foot of snow in the High Peaks region tonight into Tuesday, and another one is forecasted for later in the week.
Higher elevation slopes in the High Peaks already have three to five feet of snow, according to the DEC. That snowpack already has distinct layers formed by rain and melt/freeze cycles. As a result, the deeper snow layers may be reactive to the added stresses of recent snows, creating conditions conducive to avalanches, according to the DEC.
Avalanches occur on steep open slopes. While much of that terrain is found in the High Peaks, avalanche-prone terrain is found in other areas, including Snowy Mountain in Hamilton County. Avalanches can be triggered by skiers, snowboarders and snowshoers. Avalanche danger increases during and immediately after major snowfalls and during thaws, according to the DEC.
The Adirondack Park does not have sophisticated system for tracking or forecasting avalanches like some other mountainous regions. For instance, the Mount Washington Avalanche Center puts out regular forecasts based on current conditions and provides specific danger ratings. DEC generally issues avalanche advisories prior to or after big snow storms.
Twenty-four people have been killed by avalanches in the U.S. this winter, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. All but one of those incidents occurred in the western U.S. On Feb. 1, a Vermont skier was killed in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
In the Adirondacks, there have been anecdotal reports of avalanches occurring this winter, but no reports of injuries. Only one person is known to have died in an avalanche in the Adirondacks. That incident took place on Wright Peak’s Angel Slides in February 2000 when one person was killed and five were injured.
Several other skiers have been caught in avalanches on Angel Slides over the years. The most recent incident took place in February 2018 when a skier was trapped waist-deep in snow, according to the DEC. A pair of skiers also survived an avalanche in the same place in 2010.
In January, after there was a report of an avalanche being triggered by people on Saddleback Mountain, experienced climber Kevin MacKenzie told the Explorer the occurrence happens more than people think.
“I’ve had friends that have triggered and been caught in them up here,” he said. “People don’t think of the danger as significant since it’s not like the Rockies etc., but it only takes the right set up of layering. I walk over the debris every year below the big faces and the slides and even some of the slopes in Panther Gorge.”
Take care in the backcountry
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 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 a shovel, probes, and a 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.