By Mike Lynch
The Colorado Rockies and New Hampshire White Mountains have avalanche centers that provide snowpack observations and forecasts of danger ratings for those susceptible areas.
Backcountry enthusiasts in the Adirondacks have relied on word of mouth and direct observation for up-to-date information about winter slide conditions in the High Peaks and other steep mountains.
Noticing the lack of public data on the subject, two skiers have created a crowd-sourcing website for people to submit their snowpack and avalanche observations. Comments from the public are compiled on a spreadsheet without any vetting.
“There is certainly a growing contingent of people who like to ski and enter avalanche terrain, and there are people out there making observations that could be useful for everyone,” said Nate Trachte, who started the site with Caitlin Kelly. Both have basic avalanche training but aren’t experts.
Avalanches occur less frequently here than places such as the Colorado Rockies, where there is more snow and steep terrain.
The pair hope the website will provide information that can be used by guides, avalanche course instructors, local outdoor gear shops, forest rangers, search-and-rescue personnel, and travelers into the backwoods. They also hope it can be a learning tool for people new to slide skiing or climbing.
But the founders warn that this site is not a forecasting center and people heading into avalanche terrain should be prepared with the proper gear and training.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation echoed that message.
“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,” DEC said in a statement to the Explorer.
Keene resident Ron Konowitz is president of the Adirondack Powder Skiers Association and has skied all 46 High Peaks. He was among four skiers who were swept away in an avalanche on Wright Peak in February 2000 that killed one person. The death is the only known avalanche-related fatality in the Adirondacks.
Konowitz said having a “clearinghouse for exchanging information about snowpack on Adirondack slides would be really helpful,” but he believes a DEC forest ranger should be overseeing such a project because of their training.
“You don’t really know exactly what (the skier’s) level of skill is, as far as, you know, digging the pits and making the analysis,” he said. “So that’s where having an actual avalanche center I think, would be even better.”
DEC issues avalanche advisories throughout the ski season, often after a big snowfall, but they aren’t forecasts based on field observations. They are simply reminders to the public to be careful.
Eleven observations between January 17 and 24 have been submitted to https://www.adkavy.org.
Sign up for the “Backcountry Journal” newsletter, sending trip ideas, recreation news, wildlife stories and more on Thursdays