The snow has started but is definitely off to a slow start this year.  The temperatures have also been so mild that many of the forest bugs that get killed off each winter will survive for another season.  All of Nature weaves together and when one part is lacking, like moisture levels, other parts of Nature activate to support life as we know it.  But the scale has been so tipped with Global Warming that we can no longer depend on natural backups to again balance.  For instance, some fish cannot live in the warmer water so they move to a different location and the food chain needs to follow or break. 

In high country, the snow supports life as snow protects the tundra and nourishes with slow release moisture.   Without the life-giving moisture coming slowly the ground nutrients wash away and the destruction process accelerates.  The tundra that was so completely destroyed by the East Troublesome Fire will take a long time to replenish – we will need to give nature all the help she can get.  But we need more snow to help quench the drought that started the fire prone situation. 

The snow we have received has come in waves.  The layer of snow mixes with a freeze-thaw sequence that produces unstable layers in the snowpack.  At lower elevations, the pack is melting faster with the warmer temperatures.  At higher altitudes, the snow forms a layer separated from the other layers by a glaze or just a poor bond to the other layer.  You can see those layers if you make a vertical cut in a snowbank.   That becomes the sliding point that is the starting point for avalanches. 

With Covid 19 demands for isolation or small groups and with the groomed trails at Resorts not yet in good shape for cruising, the Back Country is calling more and more.  But if you go, go prepared.  Go with experienced people, teach those who are short on experience, tell people where you are going and always carry the ten essentials.  Even in times of Covid19, start the season with courses that teach you how snow behaves in the mountains, conditions for avalanches, and just awareness of how cruel the mountains can be if you are not prepared.  Learn even just what it is to be prepared…

The American Avalanche Association, like most every avalanche education group, is urging newcomers to the backcountry to take an avalanche course or awareness clinic. “Not just that, but think about first-aid, surviving an exposed night in the mountains and your ability to haul an injured buddy out of the snowy wildlands,” says  Halsted Morris, the president of the American Avalanche Association.  Instruction and guiding operations are struggling to meet 3 x’s the normal demand. Go to a local mountaineering shop or search online, including the Colorado Avalanche Information Center site under education.  Some shorter classes are designed for simple snowshoeing-XC Skiing-or snowmobiling on regular trails for which you don’t need a full-blown course.

Dec 16 at 530p the Fraser Library is hosting a virtual discussion of avalanche safety in the backcountry in a pandemic presented by local avalanche educator Jamie Wolter. “Wolter, who is a presenter for the ‘Know Before You Go’  avalanche program, will discuss the importance of minimizing risk in the backcountry and show you how to find the resources you need to help you make smart decisions,” says Jeanette McQuade, branch manager.

“Many backcountry enthusiasts worry that ill-prepared newcomers will put themselves and others at risk this winter,” said John Meyer in Saturday’s Denver Post.  What is happening however is that even the experienced venture farther into more risky situations to get away from the newcomers so the current data levels out.  One must learn to consider how, where and under what conditions avalanches can occur.  There are so many factors to be considered like slope angle, direction the slope faces, age of the snow, layers in the snow, temperature, wind and shade conditions and so many other things. And those conditions change from week to week.  Listen to the voice in your head and don’t be afraid to speak up to those in your group.  If you don’t feel comfortable, you don’t need to go.  Be smart  and live to ski another day…