Avalanche Advisory published on March 5, 2017 @ 5:38 am
Issued by Graham Turnage - Taos Avalanche Center

MODERATE avalanche danger exists above and near treeline today, where human triggered persistent slab avalanches remain possible.  Weak, faceted snow underlies a persistent slab on many slopes, requiring careful evaluation of each slope independently.  Identify slopes and features of concern and manage terrain choices accordingly.  Below treeline areas have a LOW danger and normal caution is advised.

2. Moderate


Above Treeline
Heightened avalanche conditions on specific terrain features. Evaluate snow and terrain carefully; identify features of concern.

2. Moderate


Near Treeline
Heightened avalanche conditions on specific terrain features. Evaluate snow and terrain carefully; identify features of concern.

1. Low


Below Treeline
Generally safe avalanche conditions. Watch for unstable snow on isolated terrain features.
    Heightened avalanche conditions on specific terrain features. Evaluate snow and terrain carefully; identify features of concern.
  • 1. Low
  • 2. Moderate
  • 3. Considerable
  • 4. High
  • 5. Extreme
Avalanche Problem 1: Persistent Slab
  • Type ?
  • Aspect/Elevation ?
  • Likelihood ?
    Very Likely
  • Size ?
    Very Large

A buried layer of facets formed last week (pre-storm) exists under a persistent slab on many slopes at mid to high elevations.  This 2-4 foot slab is relatively soft (4F/1F) in most places, but its is still showing signs of cohesivity where coupled with a buried weak layer.  On slopes that have seen even just a bit of sun, there is also a crust associated with this faceted weak layer. These density differences have created a strong over weak snowpack - never a comforting situation.   Most of the widespread avalanche activity on Tuesday and Wednesday ran on this layer (see pic below).

advisory discussion

MODERATE avalanche danger exists above and near treeline today, while below treeline areas have a LOW danger.  Remember a Moderate danger indicates that human triggered avalanches are possible.  A layer of low density factes is now buried by a 2 to 4 foot slab on many slopes at mid and high elevations. In some areas this weak layer of facets is associated with a smooth crust providing a nice sliding surface for that slab.  Stability tests are indicating that you can initiate collapse and propagation of this weak layer.  While the chances of triggering this slab will not be widespread, it is certainly possible, especially in shallow, rocky areas where the weight of a skier or rider is more likely to collapse the weak layer. Persistent slab problems are exactly that - persistant, and these weak layers take time to heal.  These conditions are capable of producing potentially large and destructive avalanches, and require careful evaluation of snowpack and terrain.  Dig down a few feet and see if this layer of facets exists on the slope you plan to play on, and see if it has a williingness to propagate.  The existance of a buried layer of facets underlying a denser slab should make us all travel conservatively, and carefully evaluate each slope with a fresh set of lenses.  We are back in the zone of "if you happen to trigger this slab, the consequences could be high".  

Today's cloud cover and strong winds should keep the wet loose slide activity at bay, despite temps into the 40s at lower elevations.  If the sun breaks through the clouds today, keep an eye on the melting surface snow below treeline, and adjust your terrain choices accordingly.  Collapsing into wet snow near trees and rocks is a good sign the warmth is crumbling any structure left in the snowpack, telling us to find colder slopes.  Have a great Sunday and be safe out there - maybe a fresh coat of paint on the way by Monday afternoon!

If you're interested in how much snow we've gotten this year check out our recent blog post.  This was written before this last storm, so add 25.5" of snow and 3.15" of SWE to the totals from February which should bring us right around average!

We have a fresh beacon problem out at TSV for the week of feb 28 - mar 6 - check it out and keep your beacon skills sharp!

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.

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

Saturday was a warm, mostly sunny day in the mountains, with light to moderate winds.  Most of the windward fetches do not have much snow available for transport at this point, and we have not seen slab-building wind effects in most places the last couple of days.  Solar aspects had a crunchy surface sun crust, which broke down during the heat of the day.  No wet loose slides were observed.  Cold, dry snow has been preserved on the shadier aspects,  and our buried weak layers (2-4feet down) are not changing much with this weather pattern.

A regular observer found a layercake of weak layer/ crust combos while poking around SW aspects above Williams Lake on Saturday, but noted these layers were not overly reactive. His stability test results suggest this aspect is not as touchy as others, which is consistent with what we have been finding on West and Southwest aspects.

On Friday my partners and I toured up into Long Canyon to investigate the week's snowpack changes.  Check out the video.  We saw evidence of several fairly widespread natural slab avalanches that ran on a buried layer of facets and a crust/facet combo (see pic below).  We suspect these slides released Tuesday during the storm's peak instability, as the crowns are almost covered by subsequent snow, as shown in the photo below.  Propagation saw tests (PSTs) and Extended Column Tests (ECTs) were consistently showing the buried weak layer of facets are suspect, with sudden collapses and full columnar propagation the norm.  PST results were in the 30/100 cm range, and ECT scores were in the teens and low 20s, with full propagation.  We noted that while it would not be likely to trigger these slabs on all slopes, areas of concern are shallow, rocky rollovers and steep convexities.  Solar aspects were getting wet and just starting to pinwheel around noon and we avoided afternoon sunny slopes with respect to the chances of wet loose slides.

On Thursday Andy made this video explaining the slab/ crust situation in the higher elevations - still very relavent for this weekend.

Lower elevation slopes have a mixed bag of snowpack structures, and these warm temps today will continue to change that.  Weak, unconsolidated snow can be found on many slopes below treeline, but a healthy dose of clouds should prevent any wet loose snow movement today. 

Pic; look closely to see old crown in the pillow just below the ridgetop.  These slides from Tuesday's storm had widespread propagation and ran on buried facets and crusts formed last week.  Crowns are almost covered by subsequent snow, but are 2-3 feet in most places.


Pic; pit from Friday, ENE aspect at 11,700ft.  Buried weak layer of facets sitting below crust about 2 feet down.


Pic: Snowpit from a North Aspect near treeline on Thursday.  The storm slab is 92cm thick with 4F to F hard snow.  I marked the weak lower density snow that is still there from Monday morning.  ECTP 15 SP where the line is marked.






weather summary

Today looks to be partly cloudy with a few isolated showers and strong winds (20s -30s).  Above average temps should top out in the 40s in the mountains with overnight lows expected in the teens.  An upper level storm system will approach the area this afternoon and persist through Monday, bringing with it the chance for 1-3" of snow and strong WSW winds.

Weather observations from the Wheeler Peak Wilderness between 9000 ft. and 13000 ft.
0600 temperature: 20.4 deg. F.
Max. temperature in the last 24 hours: 33.5 deg. F.
Average wind direction during the last 24 hours: WSW
Average wind speed during the last 24 hours: 24 mph
Maximum wind gust in the last 24 hours: 53 mph
New snowfall in the last 24 hours: 0 inches
Total snow depth: 89.3 inches
Two-Day Mountain Weather Forecast Produced in partnership with the Albuquerque NWS
For 9000 ft. to 10000 ft.
Sunday Sunday Night Monday
Weather: Partly cloudy with isolated snow showers and strong SW winds. Partly cloudy with scattered snow showers. Partly cloudy with isolated snow showers.
Temperatures: high to 48 deg. F. low to 25 deg. F. high to 34 deg. F.
Wind Direction: SW SW W
Wind Speed: 15-25 15-30 20-35
Expected snowfall: 0 in. .1-.4 in. .1-1 in.
For 11000 ft. to 13000 ft.
Sunday Sunday Night Monday
Weather: Partly cloudy with a few flurries and strong W winds. Mostly cloudy with scattered snow showers. Partly cloudy with scattered snow showers.
Temperatures: high to 40 deg. F. low to 17 deg. F. high to 26 deg. F.
Wind Direction: W SW W
Wind Speed: 15-30 20-35 25-40
Expected snowfall: 0 in. .2-1.7 in. .2-1 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.