Avalanche Advisory published on January 10, 2018 @ 5:58 am
Issued by Andy Bond - Taos Avalanche Center

Avalanche danger will start as LOW and rise to MODERATE today above treeline.  Human triggered wind slab avalanches are possible today. If the forecast verifies, up to 8" of snow and moderate to strong winds will create wind slabs above treeline.  The most suspect areas will be where snow is already on the ground.  These areas are found on northerly aspects above 11,000'.  It's a good idea to evaluate the snowpack for faceted weak layers under the new snow.   

2. Moderate


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

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.
    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: Wind Slab
  • Type ?
  • Aspect/Elevation ?
  • Likelihood ?
    Very Likely
  • Size ?
    Very Large

Snow will start falling throughout the day, with up to 8" of new snow possible by this evening. As the snow increases so too will the avalanche danger.  15 to 30 MPH west winds today will transport this new snow into wind slabs at upper elevations. The new snow will be falling on variety of surfaces from bare ground, to facets and crusts. The concern is where the new snow is falling on the existing snow.  This is confined to above 11,000' on northerly aspects in terrain that is able to capture snow, like gullies and bowls below ridgelines.  We can expect to find the new snow today drifting into these same areas. Be suspect of areas where you find 6+" of wind drifted snow in cross-loaded gullies, below ridgelines and on convex rolls.  Any avalanche triggered today will most likely be small, but with our thin snowpack, even a small ride could cause serious injury. 

Avoid slopes steeper than 35 degrees as these will be the most suspect.  It's a good idea to dig down into the slope or use a ski pole to identify where the new snow has fallen on our existing snowpack.  Pay attention to obvious clues of instability like "whumphing", collapses, and shooting cracks as these are indications of a poor snowpack structure.

advisory discussion

Forecasted snowfall totals have backed off this morning, but we could see 4 to 8" of snow over our mountains by tonight. As snow totals add up we'll see our avalanche danger rise to Moderate above 11,000'. Lower elevation terrain will remain at Low danger as any new snow today will be falling on bare ground.   Most slopes in our forecasted area are back to bare ground with the last two weeks of high pressure. A weak, shallow and variable snowpack exists at higher elevations on north aspects.  The concern today is drifting snow adding a heavy load to areas where the deeper snow exists.  It's on these slopes that we have a weak snowpack and poor structure.  Many of the slopes consist of just a faceted, sugar-like snow.  Surface slabs forming today will be capping these weak layers, giving us all the ingredients for a slab avalanche.  Other slopes have isolated pockets of deeper snow consisting of slab/weak layer combinations.   These deeper areas are not able to hold much weight right now.  As snow totals start to add up, it could be too much too quickly for our weak snowpack to handle.  Be aware of changing avalanche conditions throughout the day as snow totals start to climb. 

The tricky part today is how variable our snowpack is.  In some ways this isn't a bad thing, as we don't have widespread consistent weak layers that will be able to propagate very far. The hard part will be identifying where the old snow was lingering before the new snow from today.   My advice is to dig lots of quick snowpits to help identify where these areas of concern are as the can change rather quickly.  It's possible that we could see avalanches step down into older weaker layers.  It's a good time to refamiliarize yourself with all your backcountry safety gear.  It's easy to get excited about some snow, but we still have a thin snowpack.  The seasons just beginning and we have a lot of great days ahead of us.       


Photo: depicting how quickly our snowpack can change, going from bare ground to 4' of snow.

recent observations

Snow remains above 11,000' on north aspects, which is mostly comprised of cohession-less facets.  At higher elevations we have isolated pockets of slab/facet combinations varying in depth from 1 to 3'.  Overall our snowpack is weak with a poor snowpack structure in place.  On Tuesday we were able to get collapse in a couple areas where weak depth hoar has been capped by a slab.  The snowpack remains highly variable in depth and distribution.  Lingering snow is not always in the obvious starting zones.  Stability tests are indicating that areas where we do have slab/weak layer combinations are not going to be able to handle much weight. 

Photo: Shooting crack from Tuesday on a north aspect.  

Photo: Cohession-less facets running like water on steep terrain





weather summary

An upper level storm system will bring snow to our area this morning and into this evening.  Snowfall amounts have been downgraded some with 4 to 8" of snow possible and .5" of water.  Winds will be moderate to strong (15 to 30 Gusting 45MPH) out the west and shifting to the NW tonight.  Snow level looks to hover around 9000' today and dropping to valley bottoms tonight.  It's nice to see the barometer finally dropping!


Weather observations from the Wheeler Peak Wilderness between 9000 ft. and 13000 ft.
0600 temperature: 23.3 deg. F.
Max. temperature in the last 24 hours: 35.1 deg. F.
Average wind direction during the last 24 hours: WSW
Average wind speed during the last 24 hours: 21 mph
Maximum wind gust in the last 24 hours: 46 mph
New snowfall in the last 24 hours: 0 inches
Total snow depth: 7.7 inches
Two-Day Mountain Weather Forecast Produced in partnership with the Albuquerque NWS
For 9000 ft. to 10000 ft.
Wednesday Wednesday Night Thursday
Weather: Numerous Snow Showers Mostly cloudy in the evening then becoming partly cloudy. Scattered snow showers Mostly Sunny
Temperatures: 35 deg. F. 17 deg. F. 32 deg. F.
Wind Direction: W W then shifting NW after midnight NW
Wind Speed: 10-30 10-30 5-15
Expected snowfall: 0.4-4.8 in. 0.2-0.9 in. 0 in.
For 11000 ft. to 13000 ft.
Wednesday Wednesday Night Thursday
Weather: Numerous snow showers in the morning, then widespread snow showers in the afternoon Mostly cloudy in the evening then becoming partly cloudy. Scattered snow showers Mostly Sunny
Temperatures: 25-30 deg. F. 24 deg. F. 21-26 deg. F.
Wind Direction: W NW NW
Wind Speed: 15-30 15-30 decreasing to 15-20 after midnight 10-20
Expected snowfall: 1.4-5.7 in. 1.1-1.9 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.