By MIKE LYNCH
Skiers and others recreating on slides and steep open terrain in the Adirondack Mountains should be aware of the risk of avalanches, the state Department of Environmental Conservation advised as last weekend’s snowstorm bore down on the region.
New snow of a foot or more fell on Saturday and Sunday, adding to the already significant snowpack in the backcountry. Snow depths in the High Peaks’ high-elevation slopes had ranged from 2 to 5 feet before the weekend storm, but is much deeper now. The snow depth at Lake Colden in the High Peaks was 47 inches as of Tuesday, according to the DEC.
Recreationists can trigger avalanches when there is deep snow on steep slopes. While many of the steep open slopes are in the High Peaks, avalanche-prone terrain is found on mountains throughout the Adirondacks, including Snowy Mountain in Hamilton County.
Avalanche danger increases during and immediately after major snowfalls and during thaws, according to the DEC.
According to the department, the snowpack already had distinct layers formed by rain and melting and freezing cycles prior to the new snow. Due to high winds, snow depths are deeper on leeward slopes or areas of snow deposits, such as gullies. Lower snow layers may react to the added stresses of the recent snows, creating conditions conducive to avalanches.
The majority of avalanches in the United States occur in the West. Still, avalanches do occur in the Northeast. Last March, six skiers were caught in an avalanche in Smugglers Notch in Vermont. And just one month earlier, a skier on Wright Peak in the Adirondacks was trapped in waist-deep snow from an avalanche, according to the DEC. He escaped uninjured with the assistance of his companions. One person was killed and five people were injured in an avalanche while skiing Angel Slides on Wright Peak in February 2000.
DEC reminds backcountry winter recreationists to take the following precautions when traveling in avalanche-prone terrain:
- Crosscountry 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, and 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 web site.