THIS AVALANCHE ADVISORY EXPIRED ON February 22, 2017 @ 5:23 am
Avalanche Advisory published on February 21, 2017 @ 5:23 am
Issued by Andy Bond - Taos Avalanche Center

LOW avalanche danger continues today at all elevations. LOW danger does not mean no danger.  Today is all about timing as loose wet avalanches will become possible as warm temperatures and our strong southerly sun heats up the slopes. This process will start on east aspects in the morning finishing on west aspects in the afternoon. Warm temps will produce wet sloppy snow at mid and low elevations.  Avoid steep rollovers and terrain traps such as gullies and creeks.  


1. Low


Above Treeline
Generally safe avalanche conditions. Watch for unstable snow on isolated terrain features.

1. Low


Near Treeline
Generally safe avalanche conditions. Watch for unstable snow on isolated terrain features.

1. Low


Below Treeline
Generally safe avalanche conditions. Watch for unstable snow on isolated terrain features.
    Generally safe avalanche conditions. Watch for unstable snow on isolated terrain features.
  • 1. Low
  • 2. Moderate
  • 3. Considerable
  • 4. High
  • 5. Extreme
Avalanche Problem 1: Loose Wet
  • Type ?
  • Aspect/Elevation ?
  • Likelihood ?
    Very Likely
  • Size ?
    Very Large

Near record temperatures today and our strong southerly sun should be enough to start to penetrate our melt-freeze crusts starting with east aspects in the morning and moving to south and west aspects in the afternoon as the sun and warming throughout the day impact the slopes. Even though it's February, today is more like an April spring day. It's better to be early today and wait for a slope to soften up than get there late.  Avoid terrain traps like gullies and creeks as well as slopes where consequences could be high.  

An old loose wet avalanche from a south aspect earlier last week is a reminder of the problem today.  This slope also has a large cornice above it. 

advisory discussion

Temperatures yesterday hit 40° F at 9000' but never made it above freezing around 11,700'.  This morning we have a slight inversion with the current temperature at 11,700' already warmer than any point yesterday. Today will bring rapid warming to all elevations, with higher elevations already getting a head start.    Although avalanche conditions are generally safe, A LOW danger does not mean NO danger.  The potential is there to still trigger an avalanche on isolated slopes. Today those slopes should be easy to avoid with loose wet avalanches possible starting on East aspects and finishing on West facing slopes in the afternoon.  We've kept the avalanche danger at LOW as this is more like an April spring day.  Today is all about timing.  A slope an hour earlier could be locked up, but if you miss that window avalanche danger can rise even if it's only for a short period of time. Moderate west winds today could delay the warming process.

As the hard refrozen surfaces start to warm, the top layer (5 to 10cm) will start to soften and provide good "corn" skiing.  As the slope continues to warm the ski or snowboard penetration gets deeper and you're able to start moving more snow.  It's like layers of onion where if it's only the top 10cm it won't be a major concern.  As you start to get deeper more snow available to push you around.  It's better to be early to the party on days like these and have to wait for the slope to soften up than be there late.  Avoid slopes with damp "sloppy" snow. Wet loose avalanches are not like dry avalanches in that they are harder to manage once you are in them.  Avoid terrain traps like gullies and creeks as well as slopes where a loose wet avalanche could sweep you over a cliff.     

Persistent slab avalanches have become unlikely to trigger, but the possibility still exists. It's been a little over two weeks since we saw our last natural avalanche. Small grained facted weak layers that are 50 to 60cm down in the snowpack are starting to round and heal with these warm temps the last couple of days.  In shallower snowpacks where we have hard slabs sitting on top of basal facets that weak layer is still present but is showing signs of dormancy.  I don't believe we've put this layer to bed for the year and will have to keep an eye on it as we start adding new snow loads to it.   



We are going to do another avalanche talk this Wednesday February 22nd at 6PM at Taos Mesa Brewing (Mothership).  The talk this week will be a mid-season snowpack review and hopefully a productive discussion about backcountry rescue and the related challenges we face here in Northern New Mexico.

If you get into the backcountry, please drop us a line at or on the "Submit Observations" tab at the top of the homepage.  Your field observations are extremely helpful, no matter how simple, and we thank all of you who have shared.

Need to brush up on your beacon skills?  Check out the NEW beacon practice problem we have out at Taos Ski Valley.  This is a new beacon problem for the week of 2/14 - 2/21. High pressure is a great time to get some training in before our next storm this weekend.  Thank you Taos Ski Patrol for your continued support!  We will switch the problem up on Monday or Tuesday - stay tuned.

If you're looking to get some exercise and support a great cause look into the Ben Myers Ridge-A-Thon.  This event has been going on now for 20 Years. Come hike the ridge at Taos Ski Valley March 17 & 18th and raise some money that benefits our community!

recent observations

Warm temps and cold clear nights with solid freezes have put us in a melt-freeze cycle.  Snowpits from the last few days reveal facet /crust combos in the top 10 to 20cm of the snowpack on NE aspects (See Video).  This is not a concern right now but we will keep an eye on it moving forward.   We also observed recently formed near surface facets in the top few inches of the snowpack in many locations, capped by stiff wind crusts and the begingings of surface wind slabs.

We spent the weekend in various zones in the greater Williams Lake drainage.  Surface wind crusts were the norm on any unprotected slopes, while the trees were preserving generally soft snow in the form of "recylced powder", also known as near surface facets.  We discussed the need to maintain our safe travel habits in this video, despite the LOW danger rating.  We picked up an "angry inch" on Sunday, which was mostly graupel, and was more like half an inch.  This improved the skiing ever so slightly but did not effect stability.  Stability test results were unremarkable, and we found the basal facets sitting on the ground continue to gain strenght.  Winds swirled midday on Sunday, moving a bit of snow, but not enough to form slabs in most places.

Digging on southerly aspects on Monday even above treeline we were finding wet snow all the way to ground.  This was capped by a hard crust from the solid freeze the night before.  Percolation columns where free water had penetrated down in the snowpack probably from 4 to 5 days was also observed.  North Facing trees were still holding pretty good "recycled" powder.  Things started corning up on southerly aspects around noon above treeline as winds and slightly cooler temps on Monday kept most things locked up.

Pic: An old Percolation column that I isolated.  On Monday this was solid ice from a SE Aspect around 12,400'

Pic:  Wet snow (you can make a snowball with it) at the bottom of the snowpack on a SE aspect at 12,400'

Pic: "Recycled" Powder below treeline in the trees on a North Aspect

weather summary

The warming trend will continue today through Wednesday as a ridge of high pressure finishes crossing our area. We will see near record high temperatures today as our April like weather persists.  Winds will be moderate today out of the west that could provide some relief from the warm temps.  Winds are forecasted to pick up on Wednesday as SW winds aloft will move a Pacific cold front in for Thursday and the return to normal temperatures.  Sunday looks to be a return to winter with our next shot of precip.  

Weather observations from the Wheeler Peak Wilderness between 9000 ft. and 13000 ft.
0600 temperature: 31.8 deg. F.
Max. temperature in the last 24 hours: 31.8 deg. F.
Average wind direction during the last 24 hours: W
Average wind speed during the last 24 hours: 15 mph
Maximum wind gust in the last 24 hours: 36 mph
New snowfall in the last 24 hours: 0 inches
Total snow depth: 71.5 inches
Two-Day Mountain Weather Forecast Produced in partnership with the Albuquerque NWS
For 9000 ft. to 10000 ft.
Tuesday Tuesday Night Wednesday
Weather: Mostly Sunny Partly Cloudy. Partly Cloudy
Temperatures: high to 50 deg. F. low to 32 deg. F. high to 50 deg. F.
Wind Direction: W SW SW
Wind Speed: 5 - 20 5-25 5-25 increasing to 15-30 in the afternoon
Expected snowfall: 0 in. 0 in. 0 in.
For 11000 ft. to 13000 ft.
Tuesday Tuesday Night Wednesday
Weather: Mostly Sunny Partly Cloudy Partly Cloudy
Temperatures: high to 43 deg. F. low to 27 deg. F. high to 42 deg. F.
Wind Direction: W W SW
Wind Speed: 10-20 10-25 15-30
Expected snowfall: 0 in. 0 in. 0 in.

This advisory applies only to backcountry areas outside established ski area boundaries, Click here for a map of the area. . This advisory describes general avalanche conditions and local variations always occur. This advisory expires 24 hours after the posted time unless otherwise noted. The information in this advisory is provided by the Taos Avalanche Center who is solely responsible for its content.