THIS SNOWPACK SUMMARY EXPIRED ON January 21, 2017 @ 4:56 am
Snowpack Summary published on January 19, 2017 @ 4:56 am
Issued by Andy Bond - Taos Avalanche Center

bottom line:

8 - 12" of snow fell Saturday through Monday, with between .6-.9" of Snow Water Equivalent.  Winds are forecasted to pick up today before another storm arrives early Friday Morning with strong winds and 2 to 6" of snow.   The avalanche danger Thusday is rated MODERATE on all non wind loaded slopes, and CONSIDERABLE on wind loaded slopes steeper than 35 degrees. Expect the avalanche danger to rise to CONSIDERABLE Friday with new snow and strong winds in the forecast.

Snowpack Discussion

8-12" of low density snow fell during this last storm.  Winds have remained amazingly calm throughout the storm and through Wednesday.  Today and tomorrow winds will start to pick up before the next storm arrives early Friday morning with the potential of 2 to 6" of snow.  Winds as of 5AM this morning were already averaging 20 MPH and Gusting as high as 35 MPH. This "Taos Cloud" has been with us the past couple of days, keeping the snow mostly dry and available for transport.  As the West wind picks up today (10-25mph) expect this low density snow to start moving forming soft wind slabs in the alpine.  These soft wind slabs are forming on very hard,  smooth bed surfaces and are willing to slideThe avalanche danger for today is rated MODERATE on all slopes, except on wind loaded slopes steeper than 35 degrees, which have a CONSIDERABLE rating. Practice safe travel habits and carefully examine terrain, paying extra attention to ridgetop winds, steep rollovers, and shallow, rocky areas.  2 to 6" of new snow and strong West winds on Friday (Gusting in the 40's) will increase the danger rating to CONSIDERABLE for Friday.

It should be a sunny day today and I know a lot you have been getting out!  It's easy to see tracks on a slope (like we have a lot of right now) and get comfortable with the idea that it must be safe.  Don't let powder fever breed complacency with decision making and good travel techniques (See Video).  We will be doing a talk on The Human Factor at Taos Mesa Brewing (at the Mothership) on Wednesday January 25th at 6PM.   

We will issue the next regularly scheduled Snowpack Summary on Saturday morning. We are committed to providing you with the information and format you want to see.  A lot can change when putting out a two day forecast.  If conditions do change we will make sure to update the forecast. 

If you get into the backcountry, please drop us a line at Taosavalanchecenter@gmail.com 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 beacon skills?  Check out the weekly beacon practice problem we have out at Taos Ski Valley.  Thank you Taos Ski Patrol for your continued support!

A note on Danger Ratings:  We have added specific danger ratings to our Snowpack Summaries in an attempt to provide the most concise and consistent information possible.  Below is a chart explaining the North American Avalanche Danger Rating Scale -please read through it to further understand the language associated with each Danger Level.  We hope this helps folks interpret the avalanche situation and that you continue to read through the text, and not simply look for the key words (i.e. "Moderate" or "Considerable").  Keep in mind conditions can change rapidly in the awesome mountain environment we play in, so continued evaluation of snow, weather, and terrain is crucial to safe travel.  Don't be afraid to adjust your plan as conditions change, and THANK YOU for all the input!

 

Avalanche Character 1: Wind Slab
Wind Slab avalanches release naturally during wind events and can be triggered for up to a week after a wind event. They form in lee and cross-loaded terrain features. Avoid them by sticking to wind sheltered or wind scoured areas.

Up to 12" of low density snow fell in the Saturday night - Monday storm.  Winds have remained calm throughout.  As many of you have commented, this has made for some pretty good skiing!  Up to this point we were only seeing small soft slabs that formed just below the ridgetops on N - E aspects (See Video).  Today, winds will pick up (10 - 25 mph) out the West. Expect soft wind slabs to form above treeline today.  There is still a lot of snow available for transport on all aspects.  These slabs are forming on smooth, hard snow that formed with last weeks strong wind and are making for a great sliding surface. Winds started to pick up at 1 AM this morning with gusts as high as 35 MPH. ​ Today the main focus will be freshly formed soft wind slabs in the alpine.

Soft wind slabs forming just below the ridgetops on Tuesday 

 

 

 

 

Avalanche Character 2: Storm Slab
Storm Slab avalanches release naturally during snow storms and can be triggered for a few days after a storm. They often release at or below the trigger point. They exist throughout the terrain. Avoid them by waiting for the storm snow to stabilize.

This is an expected problem for Friday: Another round of snow is forecasted to start early Friday morning, with 2 to 6" of snow, .4" of water and strong winds out of the West.  Snowfall looks to be intense in the mid morning hours on Friday.  The new snow will be falling on recently formed soft wind slabs in the alpine and near surface facets that have formed in the last couple of days (See Video).   If this storm comes in as forecasted, expect the avalanche danger to rise on Friday as new snow and strong winds will form storm slabs on all aspects.  

  

 

 

 

 

Avalanche Character 3: Persistent Slab
Persistent Slab avalanches can be triggered days to weeks after the last storm. They often propagate across and beyond terrain features that would otherwise confine Wind and Storm Slab avalanches. In some cases they can be triggered remotely, from low-angle terrain or adjacent slopes. Give yourself a wide safety buffer to address the uncertainty.

Persistent slabs and buried weak layers remain a concern in our definitively Continental snowpack.  Sugary depth hoar on the ground exists in many places, and is capped by a number of stiff slabs.  It has become difficult to trigger these slabs as they are insulated by several feet of dense snow in most places.  We have found though, that if one were to trigger a deeper slab from a thin spot, the weak layers are still showing the perpensity to propagate, and thus enable slab release.  With wind loading in the alpine today and a storm on Friday, a smaller storm slab avalanche could step down into these deeper layers. Be cautious of thin, rocky terrain, as your weight will be more likely to effect these buried weak layers.  This pic sums it up well.

  

recent observations

8 to 12" of fresh snow since Saturday night has improved the skiing and riding conditions drastically!  This storm came in with almost no wind, leaving the new, low density snow unharmed in most places, providing excellent skiing.  Very small soft slabs were forming just below ridgetops on N through E aspects. In areas where the snowpack is deep (4+ feet), we are finding relatively stable conditions where there is no surface storm slab.  Areas with thinner snowpacks still have us concerned, as we are finding the buried weak layers are still sensitive to impact from above.  This video explains the differences we are seeing.

We've been in and out of the clouds for the last two days.  When the sun does pop out, solar aspects, especially southern slopes are being impacted by the intense sun and seeing wet snow.  This was observed by multiple parties yesterday.  Reports from the Red River side of the forecast zone, were that the clouds yesterday stayed mainly confined to the higher peaks around TSV (see photo below)

Lots of small loose snow avalanches in the backcountry over the last couple of days, especially when the sun made an appearance. These loose snow "sluffs" were typically starting from rock bands and are running on a widespread, firm bed surface formed from last week's warm, windy weather.  Generally these loose snow avalanches are small and non-cohesive, but in gullies and other terrain constrictions, these sluffs can entrain enough snow to push you around.  Don't be pushed around!  Manage your sluff by being conscious of what's below you, and expect this new snow to move on steep rollovers. See Photo Below

Looking back at Wheeler Peak and Lake Fork from Relica Peak Yesterday 

Loose Snow Avalanches from Tuesday

 

CURRENT CONDITIONS Weather observations from the Wheeler Peak Wilderness between 9000 ft. and 13000 ft.
0600 temperature: 15.2 deg. F.
Max. temperature in the last 24 hours: 21 deg. F.
Average wind direction during the last 24 hours: W
Average wind speed during the last 24 hours: 16 mph
Maximum wind gust in the last 24 hours: 36 mph
New snowfall in the last 24 hours: 0 inches
Total snow depth: 66 inches
weather

Wind, snow and colder temps will be the dominant trend throughout the weekend.  Winds will pick up today (10 to 25 MPH) before a weather system approaches tonight through Friday. Temperatures will start dropping Friday (20's during the day and teens at night). Friday night into Saturday another more potent system will impact our area. The winds will be returning, with colder temps and more snow throughout the week. 

Two-Day Mountain Weather Forecast Produced in partnership with the Albuquerque NWS
For 9000 ft. to 10000 ft.
  Thursday Thursday Night Friday
Weather: Partly Cloudy Mostly Cloudy with a chance of snow showers Mostly Cloudy with a chance of snow showers
Temperatures: high to 38 deg. F. low to 17 deg. F. high to 28 deg. F.
Wind direction: W W W
Wind speed: 5-25 5-30 10-30
Expected snowfall: 0 in. 0.2-1.5 in. 0.2-2.1 in.
For 11000 ft. to 13000 ft.
  Thursday Thursday Night Friday
Weather: Partly Cloudy Mostly cloudy with a chance of snow showers Snow showers likely
Temperatures: high to 30 deg. F. low to 12 deg. F. high to 20 deg. F.
Wind direction: W W W
Wind speed: 5-20 10-30 15-30
Expected snowfall: 0 in. 0.6-1.7 in. 0.6-2.1 in.
Disclaimer

This snowpack summary applies only to backcountry areas. Click here for a map of the area. This snowpack summary describes general avalanche conditions and local variations always occur. This snowpack summary expires in 48 hours unless otherwise noted.

THIS SNOWPACK SUMMARY EXPIRED ON January 19, 2017 @ 5:54 am
Snowpack Summary published on January 17, 2017 @ 5:54 am
Issued by Graham Turnage - Taos Avalanche Center

bottom line:

6-8" of snow has fallen since Saturday, with between .6-.9" of Snow Water Equivalent.  Winds have been calm since then and loose snow avalanches and soft, isolated storm slabs are our main concerns for Today and Wednesday.  The avalanche danger is rated MODERATE on all non wind loaded slopes, and CONSIDERABLE on wind loaded slopes steeper than 35 degrees.

Snowpack Discussion

Fresh snow makes all of us smile - and fresh snow with no wind is a real treat!  6-8" of low density snow has fallen since Saturday night, with flurries expected today, and winds to remain calm.  This is good news but let's not forget about a few avalanche concerns.  Isolated storm slabs formed Monday at ridgetops are sitting on very hard, smooth wind slab bed surfaces, and are willing to slide.  Loose snow "sluffs" are generally small, but can entrain significant volumes of snow when running through gullies and terrain constrictions.  And finally, our old nemesis the persistent slab/ weak layer combo is still around and on our minds in shallow, rocky areas at most mid to upper elevations.  The avalanche danger for today is rated MODERATE on all slopes, except on wind loaded slopes steeper than 35 degrees, which have a CONSIDERABLE rating.  Practice safe travel habits and carefully examine terrain, paying extra attention to ridgetop winds, steep rollovers, and shallow, rocky areas.  If winds do pick up today and tomorrow, expect increased slab formation at and above treeline, which will raise the avalanche danger in these areas.

We will issue the next Snowpack Summary on Thursday morning.

If you get into the backcountry, please drop us a line at Taosavalanchecenter@gmail.com 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 beacon skills?  Check out the weekly beacon practice problem we have out at Taos Ski Valley.  Thank you Taos Ski Patrol for your continued support!

A note on Danger Ratings:  We have added specific danger ratings to our Snowpack Summaries in an attempt to provide the most concise and consistent information possible.  Below is a chart explaining the North American Avalanche Danger Rating Scale -please read through it to further understand the language associated with each Danger Level.  We hope this helps folks interpret the avalanche situation and that you continue to read through the text, and not simply look for the key words (i.e. "Moderate" or "Considerable").  Keep in mind conditions can change rapidly in the awesome mountain environment we play in, so continued evaluation of snow, weather, and terrain is crucial to safe travel.  Don't be afraid to adjust your plan as conditions change, and THANK YOU for all the input!

 

Avalanche Character 1: Loose Dry
Loose Dry avalanches exist throughout the terrain, release at or below the trigger point, and can run in densely-treed areas. Avoid very steep slopes and terrain traps such as cliffs, gullies, or tree wells.

Loose Dry Snow Avalanches is the main concern for today.  Up to 8" of low density snow has fallen since Saturday night, but thankfully it fell without the accompaniment of wind.  Loose snow "sluffs" are running on a widespread, firm bed surface formed from last week's warm, windy weather.  Observations from yesterday were showing that this new snow was not acting like a cohesive slab, but was also not bonding well to the old snow interface of hard wind slabs and sun/melt freeze crusts.  Carefully analyze your terrain choices and consider the consequences of a sluff sweeping you into terrain traps or down through gnarly terrain.  If winds pick up the next couple of days, it will readily transport this new, low density snow, forming stiffer, cohesive pockets.  Avalanche Danger is rated MODERATE on all slopes, and CONSIDERABLE on wind loaded slopes steeper than 35 degrees.

Check out this quick clip of Erna the dog demonstrating the non cohesive nature of the new snow.

 

 

 

Avalanche Character 2: Storm Slab
Storm Slab avalanches release naturally during snow storms and can be triggered for a few days after a storm. They often release at or below the trigger point. They exist throughout the terrain. Avoid them by waiting for the storm snow to stabilize.

Although most mountain locations have been without significant wind the last couple of days, isolated areas of the upper elevations have seen enough wind to build soft storm slabs.  These slabs are small and soft, but have been formed on very firm, smooth bed surfaces, and are easy to trigger.  Leeward sides of ridges is where you will likely encounter these fresh slabs, and if winds do build today and tomorrow, we expect increased storm slab issues and rising avalanche danger.  Careful evaluation of these ridgetop zones is recommended, and consider the terrain these slabs can carry you into.  Check out Andy's video from Monday regarding these recent Storm Slabs.

Pic; small storm slab starting to form Monday;

 

 

 

Avalanche Character 3: Persistent Slab
Persistent Slab avalanches can be triggered days to weeks after the last storm. They often propagate across and beyond terrain features that would otherwise confine Wind and Storm Slab avalanches. In some cases they can be triggered remotely, from low-angle terrain or adjacent slopes. Give yourself a wide safety buffer to address the uncertainty.

Persistent slabs and buried weak layers remain a concern in our definitively Continental snowpack.  Sugary depth hoar on the ground exists in many places, and is capped by a number of stiff slabs.  It has become difficult to trigger these slabs as they are insulated by several feet of dense snow in most places.  We have found though, that if one were trigger a deeper slab from a thin spot, the weak layers are still showing the perpensity to propagate, and thus enable slab release.  Be cautious of thin, rocky terrain, as your weight will be more likely to effect these buried weak layers.  This pic sums it up well

  

recent observations

6-8" of fresh snow since Saturday night has improved the skiing and riding conditions drastically!  This storm came in with almost no wind, leaving the new, low density snow unharmed in most places.  While touring above Williams Lake on Monday, my partners and I found great, powdery conditions in most places, with small storm slabs starting to form along the alpine ridges. See pic below. In areas where the snowpack is deep (4+ feet), we are finding relatively stable conditions where there is no surface storm slab.  Areas with thinner snowpacks still have us concerned, as we are finding the buried weak layers are still sensitive to impact from above.  This video explains the differences we are seeing.

We are finding the new snow is not bonding well to the underlying firm bed surface from last week, and sluffs are common on steep terrain.  Generally these loose snow avalanches are small and non-cohesive, but in gullies and other terrain constrictions, these sluffs can entrain enough snow to push you around.  Don't be pushed around!  Manage your sluff by being conscious of what's below you, and expect this new snow to move on steep rollovers.

Pic 1; erna showing non- cohesive fresh snow:

Pic 2: light ridgetop winds forming soft slabs Monday:

 

CURRENT CONDITIONS Weather observations from the Wheeler Peak Wilderness between 9000 ft. and 13000 ft.
0600 temperature: 17 deg. F.
Max. temperature in the last 24 hours: 24 deg. F.
Average wind direction during the last 24 hours: WSW
Average wind speed during the last 24 hours: 9 mph
Maximum wind gust in the last 24 hours: 20 mph
New snowfall in the last 24 hours: 3.4 inches
Total snow depth: 68 inches
weather

Unsettled weather will continue today, with temps in the 20s and 30s F and a few snow showers.  Wednesday will be warmer and sunnier, with temperatures reaching above normal in most areas. Downslope winds on Thursday will help daytime temperatures rise above normal and a series of potent disturbances will impact the area with strong winds, much colder temperatures and chances for snow beginning Thursday night and continuing into early next week as a taste of winter returns to the Land of Enchantment.

Two-Day Mountain Weather Forecast Produced in partnership with the Albuquerque NWS
For 9000 ft. to 10000 ft.
  Tuesday Tuesday Night Wednesday
Weather: Mostly cloudy with a chance of isolated snow showers. Partly Cloudy. Partly cloudy in the morning, then clearing by afternoon.
Temperatures: high to 35 deg. F. low to 18 deg. F. high to 35 deg. F.
Wind direction: W W W
Wind speed: 5-10 5-15 5-15
Expected snowfall: .2 in. 0 in. 0 in.
For 11000 ft. to 13000 ft.
  Tuesday Tuesday Night Wednesday
Weather: Mostly cloudy with isolated snow showers. Partly cloudy. Partly cloudy in the morning, then clearing by afternoon.
Temperatures: high to 23 deg. F. low to 15 deg. F. high to 28 deg. F.
Wind direction: W W W
Wind speed: 5-10 5-10 5-15
Expected snowfall: .2 in. 0 in. 0 in.
Disclaimer

This snowpack summary applies only to backcountry areas. Click here for a map of the area. This snowpack summary describes general avalanche conditions and local variations always occur. This snowpack summary expires in 48 hours unless otherwise noted.

THIS SNOWPACK SUMMARY EXPIRED ON January 17, 2017 @ 5:15 am
Snowpack Summary published on January 15, 2017 @ 5:15 am
Issued by Andy Bond - Taos Avalanche Center

bottom line:

This storm was under whelming, with only 4 to 5" of snow and around .3 to .4" of Snow Water Equivalent.  Loose Snow Avalanches will be the main concern today.  But don't let your guard down as a buried persistent slab/ weak layer combo still lingers deep in the snowpack as  human triggered avalanches are possible today.

Snowpack Discussion

UPDATE 6AM JANUARY 16th: Storm totals so far range from 3 to 6" with around .25 to .4" of Snow Water Equivalent (SWE).  Skiing and riding conditions have really improved, but the big story is how calm the winds have been.  The winds have been in the single digits and we have not seen any wind loading.  Due to how calm the winds have been a cohesive slab has not formed. This will be the first time this season we'll be using the Loose Dry Snow avalanche character.  These loose dry snow avalanches are commonly referred to as "sluffs" or "point releases".  People tend to minimize these types of avalanches as "harmless" and can provide for good skiing, until the snow gets deep enough and starts pushing you around.  Be aware of terrain traps like gullies and cliffs where snow can pile up or push you around.  We expect another 2 to 4 inches of snow throughout the day with winds to remain calm to light.  Be prepared to adjust you plan if the winds pick up or snow fall amounts increase throughout the day. 

 

Sundays Discussion:

 As of 6AM we've seen 1" of snow and .1" of Snow Water Equivalent (SWE) with more on the way throughout today and into tomorrow.  As the closed low moves well to our south, moisture is being drawn up to the North that should be enhanced with a back door cold front later tonight.  We're all glass half full type people so hopefully these bands of precip will stay organized as they approach our mountains.  Expect avalanche hazard to increase on all aspects and elevations throughout the day as snow amounts "hopefully" start to add up.  A lot will depend on how much snow we get today and tomorrow with the primary concern being Storm Slab.

 

Temps will remain warm today and tomorrow with snow levels around 7500' today, before dropping tonight and raising again to 7500' tomorrow.  For the first time in a while we won't have incredibly strong winds during a storm.  Winds this morning will be out of the SE and shifting to the East with the backdoor cold front later today and finally shifting to the North as the storm makes its exit at some point tomorrow.  Currently winds are in the teens out of the SE with Gusts in the 20's at ridgetops.  Some forecasts and models are still showing 1.5" of Snow Water Equivalent (SWE) and 15 to 20 inches of snow.  Others aren't as bullish, but typically with North and East winds we should find more snow on the Red River side of our zone.  We'll try update this forecast tomorrow as we get observations from observers as to how much snow we received, so check back tomorrow!  

The warm, windy conditions of this past week has really helped stabilize our snowpack.  At higher elevations we are typically finding a deeper snowpack that has a hard wind slab.  Where I was on Lake Fork yesterday we were finding a 400 + cm snowpack with pencil to knife hard slab, that in spots was difficult to even get a ski boot into.  Most of the alpine has this hard wind slab on top from this past weeks warm temps and strong winds.  New snow today and tomorrow will be falling on this smooth hard surface providing a great sliding surface for Storm Slab avalanches.  North through East aspects (due to recent wind loading) are holding the most amount of snow and deeper hard slabs (See Video) with South and West aspects above treeline still having a hard slab from the recent winds but a shallower over all snowpack (100 to 200 cm range).  We are still seeing reactive layers in the middle of our snowpack, showing a willingness to propagate (See Video) that in some places are insulated with this hard slab.  Meaning that a great deal of force is required to effect these layers (your hand will hurt if doing a compression test).  Be aware of shallower areas or likely trigger spots (near rocks) where this hard slab is thinner. Hard slabs feel incredibly stable when traveling on them, and the good news is that they tend to be harder to trigger than soft slab (like we'll have with this storm slab). The bad news is that they tend to propagate farther and the consequences are a lot greater.  Stiffness and/or thickness of these hard slabs can vary a lot from place to place.  You might not be able to trigger a hard slab avalanche where it is thick, but where it is shallow you could release the whole slope.  If you haven't checked it out yet, take a look at the avalanche problem toolbox, it's a great resource! 

In talking with some of you yesterday, you commented on how good the skiing was in spots especially near treeline and below. We are seeing near surface faceting in spots where smaller wind crusts have been chewed up by the strong temperature gradient in the upper few centimeters of the snowpack.  Sunny days with cold clear nights like we have had these past few days have driven this process and produced "that good skiing"  See Photos below to see the difference between hard slabs in the alpine and near surface facets from yesterday.

1st Photo: Hard wind slab from a N aspect around 12,800'

2nd Photo: Near Surface Faceting 

If you get into the backcountry, please drop us a line at Taosavalanchecenter@gmail.com 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.

We will update this forecast tomorrow morning January 16th with observations from Today as we get a better idea of how much snow we get from this storm! 

Need to brush up on beacon skills?  Check out the weekly beacon problem we have out at Taos Ski Valley.  Thank you Taos Ski Patrol for your continued support!

Avalanche Character 1: Loose Dry
Loose Dry avalanches exist throughout the terrain, release at or below the trigger point, and can run in densely-treed areas. Avoid very steep slopes and terrain traps such as cliffs, gullies, or tree wells.

Loose Dry Snow Avalanches is the main concern for today.  3 to 6 inches of snow has already fallen with the potential of another 2 to 4" today.  The main thing is how calm the wind has been.  Observations from yesterday was showing that this new snow was not acting like a cohesive slab, but was also not bonding well to the old snow interface of hard wind slabs and sun/melt freeze crusts.  Skiing yesterday, the snow would travel down the slope with you as you skied.  This can provide for great skiing until it reaches the point where all the snow cascading down becomes overwhelming and starts to push you around.  On an open face you can ski to the right or left and usually get out of this "sluff".  However, when in a tight chute, that might not be possible.  Be aware of terrain traps below, like gullies where snow can pile up or cliffs where a loose snow avalanche can sweep you.  Enjoy the skiing and lack of wind with this storm, but don't get powder fever where poor decisions are made in regards to terrain selection.    

 

 

Avalanche Character 2: Persistent Slab
Persistent Slab avalanches can be triggered days to weeks after the last storm. They often propagate across and beyond terrain features that would otherwise confine Wind and Storm Slab avalanches. In some cases they can be triggered remotely, from low-angle terrain or adjacent slopes. Give yourself a wide safety buffer to address the uncertainty.

While it has gotten more difficult to trigger the persistent slabs that exist in many mid to high elevation zones, we are not out of the woods on this issue yet. Weak faceted snow at and near the ground is still suspect, as are several buried weak layers, which vary from place to place. We've found facet/crust combos that formed two weeks ago and are now buried by varying wind slabs. This problem exists in many areas near and above treeline but these slabs are hiding under several feet of snow in most places, insulating them from the weight of a skier or rider.  Although the chances of triggering and collapsing these deeper layers is low, the consequences are huge.  Our snowpack is deep enough in many places, that if one were to trigger a persistent slab from a shallow spot, the resulting slide would be massive.  Large triggers like a falling cornice may be enough of a load to find and collapse those buried weak layers Human triggered avalanches are possible for today and tomorrow.

Pic: several slab/weak layer combos present at higher elevations.

Avalanche Character 3: Storm Slab
Storm Slab avalanches release naturally during snow storms and can be triggered for a few days after a storm. They often release at or below the trigger point. They exist throughout the terrain. Avoid them by waiting for the storm snow to stabilize.

I'll continue to call this an expected problem as we haven't seen the 3 to 6 inches of new snow act like a cohesive slab.  There is still the possibility of an additional 2 to 4 inches of snow today. Winds again will remain light, similar to what we had yesterday.  Sometimes low density snow like this can be deceiving, in that you wouldn't expect it to act like a slab.  If traveling in the backcountry today, be aware of higher snowfall amounts especially above treeline, where even low density snow can propagate and act like a cohesive slab.      

  

recent observations

Warm temps and moderate winds this week have changed the snow surface - last week's powder has taken a beating.  Above Treeline, hard slabs have formed on all aspects.  Near treeline and below, these wind slabs are not as deep or hard and in some spots we are finding near surface faceting that made for good skiing!   We found this on Thursday on our tour near Bull of the Woods Pass (video).  In places that were spared from these winds, good skiing can still be found, as noted by a regular observer a few days ago in Long Canyon.  

Warm temps have taken their toll on our lower elevation snowpack, as noted by an observer in Gavilon Canyon.  He summed it up well:  crusty top with 3' mashed potatoes underneath. Off trail collapses and natural slides at the bottom along steep traverse  See Pic below.

Snowpits this week have shown us we are still dealing with a lot of spatial variability.  We are still getting unstable results with stability tests where there is a layer of weak facets sitting on a crust in the top couple of feet of the snowpack.  Areas without this prominent layer seem to have healed a bit, reinforcing the need to carefully examine the snowpack in the zone you plan to play in.

If you get into the backcountry, please drop us a line on the "Submit Observations" tab above, or send us an email at taosavalanchecenter@gmail.com.  Your observations are super helpful and we thank all those who have shared their findings!

pic; guanchy conditions at low elevations.

CURRENT CONDITIONS Weather observations from the Wheeler Peak Wilderness between 9000 ft. and 13000 ft.
0600 temperature: 26 deg. F.
Max. temperature in the last 24 hours: 32 deg. F.
Average wind direction during the last 24 hours: S
Average wind speed during the last 24 hours: 16 mph
Maximum wind gust in the last 24 hours: 27 mph
New snowfall in the last 24 hours: 1 inches
Total snow depth: 62 inches
weather

Today will kick off an active week for us with the potential of snow in the forecast throughout week, with a slight break on Wednesday!  Snow levels will raise to about 7500' today and drop to 6000' tonight.  An upper level closed low to our south will slowly move to the east throughout today and tomorrow. Significant snow is likely above 8000' today through Monday and might linger into Tuesday. We could see limited wrap-around precip but models are still showing snow through Monday as the system makes its exit. Winds will remain light to moderate (10 - 15 mph) out of the SE early today before shifting to the North. This will probably be an elevational storm with snow amounts greater at higher elevations.

Two-Day Mountain Weather Forecast Produced in partnership with the Albuquerque NWS
For 9000 ft. to 10000 ft.
  Sunday Sunday Night Monday
Weather: Widespread snow showers and isolated thunder storms Snow. Snow Likely
Temperatures: high to 32 deg. F. low to 23 deg. F. high to 32 deg. F.
Wind direction: E NW N
Wind speed: 0-10 5-10 5-10
Expected snowfall: 3.6 - 6.9 in. 3-4 in. 3-4 in.
For 11000 ft. to 13000 ft.
  Sunday Sunday Night Monday
Weather: Widepread Snow Showers. Snow. Snow.
Temperatures: high to 25 deg. F. low to 18 deg. F. high to 24 deg. F.
Wind direction: SE N N
Wind speed: 5-10 5-10 5-10
Expected snowfall: 5-9 in. 4-6 in. 4-6 in.
Disclaimer

This snowpack summary applies only to backcountry areas. Click here for a map of the area. This snowpack summary describes general avalanche conditions and local variations always occur. This snowpack summary expires in 48 hours unless otherwise noted.

THIS SNOWPACK SUMMARY EXPIRED ON January 15, 2017 @ 5:58 am
Snowpack Summary published on January 14, 2017 @ 5:58 am
Issued by Graham Turnage - Taos Avalanche Center

bottom line:

More snow is on the way today through Monday, with models calling for up to 15" of snow and 1.5" of Snow Water Equivalent.  Wind slabs exist on leeward slopes, and have gotten more difficult (but not impossible) to trigger with the warm temps.  A buried persistent slab/ weak layer combo still lingers deep in the snowpack and human triggered avalanches are possible today.

Snowpack Discussion

The warm, windy conditions of this past week should be shifting to a snow-filled weekend -yahoo!  Weather models suggest we may see up to 15" of new snow, with most of that falling Saturday night and Sunday.  This storm is coming in warm and wet, and valley rain is likely, while up to 1.5" of Snow Water Equivalent (SWE) is expected in the high country.  This will increase the avalanche hazard in the form of storm slabs.  Many places are harboring a weak overall snowpack (video), and incoming dense heavy snow can collapse our buried weak layers, creating dangerous avalanche conditions.  If triggered, these storm slabs may be enough of a load to step down into deeper layers, entrenching large volumes of snow.

Wind slabs and buried persistent slabs are still on our minds, as they are resting on several buried weak layers in many areas near and above treeline.  These slabs have gotten harder to trigger over the past few days, but if you find the sweet spot, usually a thin spot of the slab, avalanches are still possible.  Dig around to see what lies beneath the surface, and use conservative travel practices to avoid areas of slab/weak layer existence.  Human triggered avalanches are possible for today.

If you get into the backcountry, please drop us a line at Taosavalanchecenter@gmail.com 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 beacon skills?  Check out the weekly beacon problem we have out at Taos Ski Valley.  Thank you Taos Ski Patrol for your continued support!

Avalanche Character 1: Wind Slab
Wind Slab avalanches release naturally during wind events and can be triggered for up to a week after a wind event. They form in lee and cross-loaded terrain features. Avoid them by sticking to wind sheltered or wind scoured areas.

Winds from last week formed slabs on leeward sides of ridges and gullies in most locations.  This problem is more pronounced near and above treeline, as these slabs are resting on hard crusts and buried weak layers in some places (see pic below).  While these wind slabs have gotten more stubborn with the warm temps, it is still possible to trigger a slide involving these isolated slabs.  Dig a bunch of quick snow pits to see if there is a buried layer of weak, faceted snow in the top couple of feet of the snowpack.  If present, this layer has shown a willingness to collapse and propagate (video) and for today Human triggered avalanches are possible.

Pic; buried layer of facets sitting on a thin crust about 2 feet down -

 

Avalanche Character 2: Persistent Slab
Persistent Slab avalanches can be triggered days to weeks after the last storm. They often propagate across and beyond terrain features that would otherwise confine Wind and Storm Slab avalanches. In some cases they can be triggered remotely, from low-angle terrain or adjacent slopes. Give yourself a wide safety buffer to address the uncertainty.

While it has gotten more difficult to trigger the persistent slabs that exist in many mid to high elevation zones, we are not out of the woods on this issue yet. Weak faceted snow at and near the ground is still suspect, as are several buried weak layers, which vary from place to place.  This problem exists in many areas near and above treeline but these slabs are hiding under several feet of snow in most places, insulating them from the weight of a skier or rider.  Although the chances of triggering and collapsing these deeper layers is low, the consequences are huge.  Our snowpack is deep enough in many places, that if one were to trigger a persistent slab from a shallow spot, the resulting slide would be massive.  Large triggers like a falling cornice may be enough of a load to find and collapse those buried weak layers Human triggered avalanches are possible for today.

Pic: several slab/weak layer combos present at higher elevations.

Avalanche Character 3: Storm Slab
Storm Slab avalanches release naturally during snow storms and can be triggered for a few days after a storm. They often release at or below the trigger point. They exist throughout the terrain. Avoid them by waiting for the storm snow to stabilize.

EXPECTED PROBLEM: Weather models are calling for up to 15" of new snow Saturday night and Sunday, with up to 1.5" of snow water equivalent (SWE).  This will improve riding conditions drastically, but will also heighten the avalanche hazard.  New snow is commonly unstable until is has a chance to bond to it's bed surface.  This system is coming in warm and wet, which will likely deliver a bunch of dense snow, which often moves cohesively.  If this storm comes through, expect reactive storm slabs on slopes steeper than 30degrees.  Storm slab avalanches could step down into buried weak layers, producing large avalanches.  Check back Sunday morning as we will have updated storm totals.

recent observations

Warm temps and moderate winds this week have changed the snow surface - last week's powder has taken a beating.  We found this on Thursday on our tour near Bull of the Woods Pass (video).  In places that were spared from these winds, good skiing can still be found, as noted by a regular observer a few days ago in Long Canyon.  

Warm temps have taken their toll on lower elevation snowpacks, as noted by an observer in Gavilon Canyon.  He summed it up well:  crusty top with 3' mashed potatoes underneath. Off trail collapses and natural slides at the bottom along steep traverse  See Pic below.

Snowpits this week have shown us we are still dealing with a lot of spatial variability.  We are still getting unstable results with stability tests where there is a layer of weak facets sitting on a crust in the top couple of feet of the snowpack.  Areas without this prominent layer seem to have healed a bit, reinforcing the need to carefully examine the snowpack in the zone you plan to play in.

If you get into the backcountry, please drop us a line on the "Submit Observations" tab above, or send us an email at taosavalanchecenter@gmail.com.  Your observations are super helpful and we thank all those who have shared their findings!

pic; guanchy conditions at low elevations.

CURRENT CONDITIONS Weather observations from the Wheeler Peak Wilderness between 9000 ft. and 13000 ft.
0600 temperature: 28 deg. F.
Max. temperature in the last 24 hours: 28 deg. F.
Average wind direction during the last 24 hours: SW
Average wind speed during the last 24 hours: 21 mph
Maximum wind gust in the last 24 hours: 41 mph
New snowfall in the last 24 hours: 0 inches
Total snow depth: 62 inches
weather

As a storm system approaches New Mexico from the southwest, spotty precipitation will slowly develop through the day. Freezing levels look to be around 8000ft today. Precipitation will begin in earnest tonight and continue at times through Sunday night. Significant snow is likely tonight through Sunday night in the mountains above about 8000 feet.  A trailing storm system will likely bring snow showers to much of the area Monday and Monday night. A brief break in between systems is expected Tuesday and Wednesday before a colder upper level trough moves in from the west Thursday.

Two-Day Mountain Weather Forecast Produced in partnership with the Albuquerque NWS
For 9000 ft. to 10000 ft.
  Saturday Saturday Night Sunday
Weather: Mostly cloudy with snow showers. Snow. Snow
Temperatures: high to 39 deg. F. low to 28 deg. F. high to 34 deg. F.
Wind direction: SE SE E
Wind speed: 0-10 5-10 5-10
Expected snowfall: 0-2 in. 3-6 in. 5-14 in.
For 11000 ft. to 13000 ft.
  Saturday Saturday Night Sunday
Weather: Mostly cloudy with scattered snow showers. Snow. Snow.
Temperatures: high to 30 deg. F. low to 22 deg. F. high to 26 deg. F.
Wind direction: S SE E
Wind speed: 5-10 5-15 5-15
Expected snowfall: 0-2 in. 4-8 in. 6-14 in.
Disclaimer

This snowpack summary applies only to backcountry areas. Click here for a map of the area. This snowpack summary describes general avalanche conditions and local variations always occur. This snowpack summary expires in 48 hours unless otherwise noted.

THIS SNOWPACK SUMMARY EXPIRED ON January 14, 2017 @ 5:35 am
Snowpack Summary published on January 12, 2017 @ 5:35 am
Issued by Graham Turnage - Taos Avalanche Center

bottom line:

Warm and windy has been the story the last couple of days, and the snowpack is breathing a sigh of relief before the next load of snow expected Saturday through Monday.  Wind slabs exist on leeward slopes, and have gotten more difficult (but not impossible) to trigger with the warm temps.  A buried persistent slab/ weak layer combo still lingers deep in the snowpack and human triggered avalanches are possible today and Friday.

Snowpack Discussion

Weather models seem to agree (so far) that snow is on the way for the weekend, and into next week.  This change in weather will be greeted with open arms, and will change the avalanche conditions.  While we wait for mother nature to refresh our backcountry playground we are afforded a bit of time to dig a little deeper and explore a little further.  If you've gotten out the last few days you likely experienced wind effected snow in most places.  Scoured areas give way to wind loaded pockets and variability of sliding conditions is the norm.  

Breakable wind crust has it's own dangers to the knees of a skier or rider, but these surface conditions tell us something about the snowpack as well.  Winds strong enough to form these unpleasant crusts are also strong enough to build wind slabs.  Dig around to see what these slabs are sitting on, and if you find hard crusts or weak graupel layers, give these slabs a wide berth.  This wind slab problem becomes far more pronounced as we get near and above treeline, where recent winds have widened the variability from slope to slope.  Careful investigation of the snowpack and conservative travel in steep terrain will ensure safe outings into the high country.  Human triggered avalanches are possible for today and Friday.

If you get into the backcountry, please drop us a line at Taosavalanchecenter@gmail.com 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.

Also, thank you to all who joined us last night for the first of many Avalanche Awareness talks at Taos Mesa Brewing.  Your support keeps the Taos Avalanche Center alive!

Need to brush up on beacon skills?  Check out the weekly beacon problem we have out at Taos Ski Valley.  Thank you Taos Ski Patrol for your continued support!

Avalanche Character 1: Wind Slab
Wind Slab avalanches release naturally during wind events and can be triggered for up to a week after a wind event. They form in lee and cross-loaded terrain features. Avoid them by sticking to wind sheltered or wind scoured areas.

A dusting of snow and a bunch of wind the last couple of days have formed isolated wind slabs on leeward sides of ridges and gullies at all elevations.  These slabs are resting on a variety of surfaces, including hard crusts, and buried layers of graupel (see Andy's video).   In places where these wind slabs are not resting on weak layers or firm bed surfaces, they seem to be gaining strength, and have gotten more difficult to trigger the last day or two.  Digging a bunch of quick pits as you travel is a good way to see what's underneath these gummy slabs.   It is still possible to trigger the slabs and they continue to deserve respect.  Human triggered avalanches are possible today and Friday.

Avalanche Character 2: Persistent Slab
Persistent Slab avalanches can be triggered days to weeks after the last storm. They often propagate across and beyond terrain features that would otherwise confine Wind and Storm Slab avalanches. In some cases they can be triggered remotely, from low-angle terrain or adjacent slopes. Give yourself a wide safety buffer to address the uncertainty.

It wouldn't be a continental snowpack if we weren't still talking about persistent slab issues.  This problem exists in many areas near and above treeline.  Weak, sugary snow near the ground is still suspect, as are several buried layers of small grained facets (see pic below).  These weak layers have gained strength in many places, but we are still finding immense variability in our pits.  Although the chances of triggering and collapsing these deeper layers is low, the consequences are huge.  Our snowpack is deep enough in many places, that if one were to trigger a persistent slab from a shallow spot, the resulting slide would be massive.  Large triggers like a falling cornice may be enough of a load to find and collapse those buried weak layers.  Human triggered avalanches are possible for today and Friday.

Pic: several slab/weak layer combos present at higher elevations.

recent observations

Leaving any of the local trailheads reveals a few things right away; warm and windy conditions have been the story this week.  Freshly fallen trees and woody debris litter the snow surface at lower elevations, and the snow has not been spaired from these winds.  Most areas below treeline show signs of warm, above freezing temps as the surface snow is mostly settled and warm - not the fluffy cold powder of a few days ago.  

Wanderings into the higher elevations reveals a different story as illustrated in this video.  Many areas up high are starting build deeper snowpacks - snowpacks riddled with suspect layers.  Snow pit observations vary with aspect, with N and E faces harboring buried layers of graupel (pic below) and small grained facets.  Recent stability tests are suggesting these layers are gaining strength as they adjust to the load above them.  While it is taking more force to collapse these laers, once they fail, they are still willing to propagate.  This tells us once  again, that if we were to trigger collapse, avalanches are possible.  

A regular observer noted good skiing conditions and a relatively stable snowpack yesterday in Long Canyon.  He summed it up well "I walked away from this with a 'high consequence/ low probability mindset and skied a couple relatively conservative lines from the ridge." 

pic; buried graupel layer from a ENE aspect.

CURRENT CONDITIONS Weather observations from the Wheeler Peak Wilderness between 9000 ft. and 13000 ft.
0600 temperature: 17 deg. F.
Max. temperature in the last 24 hours: 20 deg. F.
Average wind direction during the last 24 hours: WSW
Average wind speed during the last 24 hours: 18 mph
Maximum wind gust in the last 24 hours: 36 mph
New snowfall in the last 24 hours: 0 inches
Total snow depth: 63 inches
weather

Strong west winds will finally ease today as the flow near and above mountain top level begins to transition to southwesterly. A few light rain or mountain snow showers are possible across far northwestern New Mexico today but the remainder of the area will be dry with above average high temperatures. A backdoor cold front will move into eastern areas this evening and overnight. Cooler air will filter in behind the front tonight and Friday. Meanwhile, an upper level low pressure system will approach the area from the west and southwest on Friday. Weather prediction models continue to trend warmer with this system for the weekend. Rain and mountain snow is forecast to overspread the area Saturday and Saturday night. The system is forecast to linger into Sunday night or Monday morning.

Two-Day Mountain Weather Forecast Produced in partnership with the Albuquerque NWS
For 9000 ft. to 10000 ft.
  Thursday Thursday Night Friday
Weather: Partly Cloudy and breezy. Partly Cloudy. Mostly cloudy.
Temperatures: high to 38 deg. F. low to 24 deg. F. high to 40 deg. F.
Wind direction: SW SW SW
Wind speed: 10-25 5-15 5-15
Expected snowfall: 0 in. 0 in. 0 in.
For 11000 ft. to 13000 ft.
  Thursday Thursday Night Friday
Weather: Partly Cloudy and breezy. Partly Cloudy. Mostly Cloudy.
Temperatures: high to 28 deg. F. low to 19 deg. F. high to 28 deg. F.
Wind direction: SW SW SW
Wind speed: 15-25 10-20 5-20
Expected snowfall: 0 in. 0 in. 0 in.
Disclaimer

This snowpack summary applies only to backcountry areas. Click here for a map of the area. This snowpack summary describes general avalanche conditions and local variations always occur. This snowpack summary expires in 48 hours unless otherwise noted.

THIS SNOWPACK SUMMARY EXPIRED ON January 12, 2017 @ 5:23 am
Snowpack Summary published on January 10, 2017 @ 5:23 am
Issued by Andy Bond - Taos Avalanche Center

bottom line:

Winds will be the story for the next two days as strong wind overnight has impacted all elevations and don't look to be calming down. N through E aspects deserve respect today and tomorrow as you are likely to trigger a recently formed wind slab The buried persistent slab / weak layer combo is still present in our snowpack and human triggered persistent avalanches are possible.

Snowpack Discussion

We seemed to have avoided the dreaded rain from this little system last night with snow falling around 6pm for an hour our two with only a couple of inches of snow in the early evening.  The bigger issue is the strong WSW shifting to W wind last night and this morning that has been moving snow.  An observer this morning noted 4 to 5 foot snow drifts around 11,000'.  Wind averaged in the 30 to 40 mph range with gusts as high as 80 MPH out of the WSW before shifting the W around 9PM.

  

We had unusually warm temperatures yesterday with freezing levels hovering around 11,000' before temperatures started dropping in the early evening hours just in time for the little bit of precipitation we received.  Most of the weather stations are reporting 1 to 2 inches of snow with only about .2" of water. The bigger concern is the strong winds that have been blowing snow and adding a lot of weight rapidly to slopes on leeward aspects.

 

    

I'm including this chart from the Snotel site on Powderhorn to show how much weight can be added just from blowing snow.  If you look at the WTEQ, which is how much water is in the snowpack, you'll notice that it starts to jump from 11.8" to 13.4"  or 1.6" of water just from blowing snow!

The warming yesterday was starting to heal our storm slabs from the previous storm near and below treeline.  On Sunday in the alpine we were forming stiffer wind slabs on N through E aspects.  Today and tomorrow be on the lookout for areas that are wind effected.  Unlike a constant steady snowfall that can add an even distribution of snow to a slope, strong winds like we have can scour one area and just around the corner you can find a 2 to 3 foot wind slab.   Dangerous avalanche conditions will exist in these areas that are wind loaded Near and Above Treeline.  Careful snowpack evaluation, cautious route-finding and conservative decision making are essential today and tomorrow as we are in store for two days of strong winds! Dig around to see what kind of snowpack you are on.  If you find wind effected areas harboring slabs, give them the respect they deserve.  If venturing into higher elevations, keep a heads up for wind loaded areas as these will be your best chance for triggering a cohesive slab avalanche.

We still have a nagging persistent slab problem that never strays too far from our minds.  This last storm was not enough weight to really test these persistent slab problems.  However, with increased wind loading today and tomorrow and evidence of bigger triggers in newly formed cornices be aware that triggering a smaller wind slab has the ability to step down into these older layers.   

A heads up if you are traveling to our North across the border today or tomorrow as southern Colorado picked up more snow than we did and are experiencing dangerous avalanche conditions (CAIC)

Come join us Wednesday January 11th at Taos Mesa Brewing ( the Mothership on the mesa) at 5PM for an hour long avalanche awareness talk where we will talk about the current snowpack, rescue gear and preparedness, and how to use the forecasting center.

If you haven't brushed up on your avalanche transceiver skills we are going to be setting up another beacon problem today.  Check back in on the website or our Facebook page this evening for more details. 

If you get out in the backcountry, please drop us a line at taosavalanchecenter@gmail.com or on the "submit observations" tab above, as your field observations are very helpful!

Our next forecast will be Thursday Morning.  Stay safe out there and enjoy the snow!

 

 

Avalanche Character 1: Wind Slab
Wind Slab avalanches release naturally during wind events and can be triggered for up to a week after a wind event. They form in lee and cross-loaded terrain features. Avoid them by sticking to wind sheltered or wind scoured areas.

We only picked up 1 to 2 inches of new snow in the early evening hours.  So not as much as we were expecting, but at least it wasn't rain!  The big concern is the strong W winds we had last night.  Winds averaged in the 30's with gusts as high as 80 mph.  Reports from early this morning are lots of wind with 4 to 5 foot wind drifts.  See Graham's video from yesterday, and although we didn't get the snow totals we were expecting overnight, the soft snow on the surface has been available for transport and is forming wind slabs.    

 

Below and Near Treeline we were finding unconsolidated snow that could have newly formed wind slab on it.  This slab is sitting on top of a very weak snowpack.  Above treeline we were finding a stiffening wind slab that formed from the wind on Sunday evening.    Pay attention to obvious signs of instability such as cracking in the snow surface, whumphing collapse and recent avalanche activity.  Winds are forecast to back off a little during the day today before building again tonight into Wednesday.  These building winds will continue to form wind slabs, which are falling on a variety of surfaces, including wind scoured crusts, and wind loaded pockets.  As these wind slabs stiffen, they will behave cohesively and can create dangerous avalanches

 

Avalanche Character 2: Persistent Slab
Persistent Slab avalanches can be triggered days to weeks after the last storm. They often propagate across and beyond terrain features that would otherwise confine Wind and Storm Slab avalanches. In some cases they can be triggered remotely, from low-angle terrain or adjacent slopes. Give yourself a wide safety buffer to address the uncertainty.

The persistent weak layers we are dealing with are still there on most aspects near and above treeline. The recent low density snow was not enough weight to be of concern to these stubborn layers. However, smaller wind slab avalanches have the ability to step down into older layers creating the possibility for a large avalanche.  Look for smaller cornices to continue to grow as the winds pick up today and tomorrow, which could produce a big enough trigger to get one of these persistent slab layers in the middle of our snowpack to pop. As West winds pick up tonight into tomorrow our wind slabs will get deeper with all the snow available for transport, adding more weight to leeward slopes.  The chances of triggering these buried slabs have gotten lower, but the consequences are huge if one were to find the sweet spot.  Unfortunately we are not out of the woods on this persistent slab problem, and human triggered persistent slab avalanches remain possible today near and above treeline. 

  These could be very large, destructive avalanches.  See this video from 1/02 explaining our weak basal snowpack and persistent slab problem.

Graham pointing out the persistent slab problem:

 

recent observations

Recent avalanche activity has subsided since Saturday, and warmer temps were helping to heal the storm slab instabilities from Friday.  Above treeline we were finding a stiffening wind slab on N through E aspects.  Below and Near Treeline, especially on aspects that are not effected as much by the wind, we were finding soft snow that made for pretty good skiing.  Today and tomorrow are probably going to be a different story with Strong west winds at all elevations.  The winds don't look to be letting up anytime soon.  Check back in later today as we will be out assessing what the winds did last night!

 

CURRENT CONDITIONS Weather observations from the Wheeler Peak Wilderness between 9000 ft. and 13000 ft.
0600 temperature: 15.8 deg. F.
Max. temperature in the last 24 hours: 27.5 deg. F.
Average wind direction during the last 24 hours: W
Average wind speed during the last 24 hours: 32 mph
Maximum wind gust in the last 24 hours: 80.9 mph
New snowfall in the last 24 hours: 2 inches
Total snow depth: 65 inches
weather

Snow showers will continue over the Northern Mountains through Thursday as weak disturbances move over the area. (Light Snow Fall) Winds will taperoff some today over the region before increasing again this evening, mainly over the Sangre De Cristos. Temperatures will be moderate over the area through Thursday. A potent storm system (Potential Closed Low) will begin to move into New Mexico on Friday, bringing the potential for widespread winter weather.

 

Two-Day Mountain Weather Forecast Produced in partnership with the Albuquerque NWS
For 9000 ft. to 10000 ft.
  Tuesday Tuesday Night Wednesday
Weather: Partly Cloudy. Slight chance of snow showers in the morning Partly cloudy. Partly cloudy with a chance of snow.
Temperatures: high to 35 deg. F. low 23 deg. F. high to 46 deg. F.
Wind direction: W SW W
Wind speed: 15-30 10-40 10-35
Expected snowfall: 0.1 - 0.2 in. 0 in. 0.1 - 0.8 in.
For 11000 ft. to 13000 ft.
  Tuesday Tuesday Night Wednesday
Weather: Partly Cloudy. Slight chance of snow showers in the morning Partly cloudy Partly cloudy with a chance of snow.
Temperatures: high to 27 deg. F. low to 19 deg. F. high to 27 deg. F.
Wind direction: W W W
Wind speed: 15-35 15-45 15 - 40
Expected snowfall: 0.1 - 0.4 in. 0 in. 0.2 - 0.9 in.
Disclaimer

This snowpack summary applies only to backcountry areas. Click here for a map of the area. This snowpack summary describes general avalanche conditions and local variations always occur. This snowpack summary expires in 48 hours unless otherwise noted.

THIS SNOWPACK SUMMARY EXPIRED ON January 10, 2017 @ 5:41 am
Snowpack Summary published on January 8, 2017 @ 5:41 am
Issued by Graham Turnage - Taos Avalanche Center

bottom line:

Today should be a great day to play in the recent snow, but soft fresh windslabs exist on leeward sides of ridges and gullies at higher elevations, which will be possible to trigger.  With increasing wind in the forecast, these wind slabs will build and stiffen in the next 2 days. Video. The buried persistent slab / weak layer combo is still present and human triggered avalanches are possible.

Snowpack Discussion

Saturday gave many a chance to play in the cold blower powder from Friday's storm.  Sunday will be another chance to get out and will be quite a bit warmer, but winds will start to build today and tonight.  These pleasant days with fresh snow can lure us into a common human trap; powder fever is a feeling that most skiers and riders are familiar with. Our quest for the steep and deep can drive us to make risky decisions when in avalanche terrain, and recognizing this trend in our behavior is key to safely navigating the slopes we play on.  It's easy to play it safe when we see natural avalanches and experience that spooky "whumphing" sound of weak layer collapse. Obvious signs of instability like these have diminished since Friday and it is conditions like we have today that complicate our decision making, as snowpack instabilities still exist.  Dig around to see what kind of snowpack you are on.  If you find wind effected areas harboring slabs, give them the respect they deserve.  There will be plenty of zones near and below treeline to play in soft, unconsolidated snow, and if venturing into higher elevations, keep a heads up for wind loaded areas as these will be your best chance for triggering a cohesive slab avalanche.

We still have a nagging persistent slab problem that never strays too far from our minds.  This last storm was not enough weight to really test these persistent slab problems.  However, with increased wind loading today and tomorrow and evidence of bigger triggers in newly formed cornices be aware that triggering a smaller slide has the ability to step down into these older layers.  

Come join us Wednesday January 11th at Taos Mesa Brewing ( the Mothership on the mesa) at 5PM for an hour long avalanche awareness talk where we will talk about the current snowpack, rescue gear and preparedness, and how to use the forecasting center.

If you haven't brushed up on your avalanche transceiver skills we have a beacon problem set up in the Blitz area at TSV, which we will reset on Monday - details will be on Tuesday's summary and on our Facebook page.

If you get out in the backcountry, please drop us a line at taosavalanchecenter@gmail.com or on the "submit observations" tab above, as your field observations are very helpful!

Our next forecast will be Tuesday Morning.  Stay safe out there and enjoy the snow!

 

 

Avalanche Character 1: Wind Slab
Wind Slab avalanches release naturally during wind events and can be triggered for up to a week after a wind event. They form in lee and cross-loaded terrain features. Avoid them by sticking to wind sheltered or wind scoured areas.

8 to 12 inches of low density new snow fell early Friday morning with light W winds.  Below Treeline we are finding unconsolidated snow that makes for pretty darn good skiing and riding.  Near and above treeline, especially on N through E aspects, we are finding more evidence of a little bit of wind that has made this light snow a bit more cohesive and willing to propagate and act like a slab.  On Friday we saw and easily triggered small avalanches that could injure or bury a rider (see pic below). Human triggered storm /wind slab avalanches are possible today and Monday on all steep slopes.  Where the snow is not cohesive we are seeing loose sluffs that are running fast on crusts or trenching down in the snow when running on a weak faceted snowpack (second pic below).   Pay attention to obvious signs of instability such as cracking in the snow surface, whumphing collapse and recent avalanche activity.  Winds are forecast to build throughout the day and into Monday, in front of our next dose of snow.  These building winds will continue to form wind slabs, which are falling on a variety of surfaces, including wind scoured crusts, and wind loaded pockets.  As these wind slabs stiffen, they will behave cohesively and can create dangerous avalanches. Check out the quick video of a small slab release from Friday, and this video from Thursday, explaining the effects of recent winds.

We triggered this small storm slab avalanche Friday from the ridgetop on a ENE aspect around 12,000'

Avalanche Character 2: Persistent Slab
Persistent Slab avalanches can be triggered days to weeks after the last storm. They often propagate across and beyond terrain features that would otherwise confine Wind and Storm Slab avalanches. In some cases they can be triggered remotely, from low-angle terrain or adjacent slopes. Give yourself a wide safety buffer to address the uncertainty.

The persistent weak layers we are dealing with are still there on most aspects near and above treeline. The recent low density snow was not enough weight to be of concern to these stubborn layers. However, smaller wind slab avalanches have the ability to step down into older layers creating the possibility for a large avalanche.  Look for smaller cornices to continue to grow as the winds pick up today and tomorrow, which could produce a big enough trigger to get one of these persistent slab layers in the middle of our snowpack to pop. As West winds pick up tonight into tomorrow our wind slabs will get deeper with all the snow available for transport, adding more weight to leeward slopes.  The chances of triggering these buried slabs have gotten lower, but the consequences are huge if one were to find the sweet spot.  Unfortunately we are not out of the woods on this persistent slab problem, and human triggered persistent slab avalanches remain possible today near and above treeline. 

  These could be very large, destructive avalanches.  See this video from 1/02 explaining our weak basal snowpack and persistent slab problem.

Andy's pic from a couple of days ago sums it up well:

recent observations

While traveling in Long Canyon on Friday we saw several small natural storm slab avalanches that were running near and above treeline. 8 to 12 inches of low density snow fell early Friday morning with little wind. During our field wanderings above Williams lake on Saturday, we observed a few natural surface avalanches, which appeared to be soft storm slabs and loose sluffs.  The touchy storm slabs from Friday seemed to have calmed down a bit, as time has allowed them to adjust to their new environment, although we stuck to lower angle, protected slopes as we got near treeline.  We found great powder skiing and felt good with our conservative travel decisions.  The looming storm slab / wind slabs from Friday's storm gave us pause and kept us from climbing onto high elevation slopes.   Winds today and tomorrow will increase, creating ever-stiffening wind slabs.  Human triggered avalanches are possible Sunday and Monday.

 

CURRENT CONDITIONS Weather observations from the Wheeler Peak Wilderness between 9000 ft. and 13000 ft.
0600 temperature: 21 deg. F.
Max. temperature in the last 24 hours: 21 deg. F.
Average wind direction during the last 24 hours: WSW
Average wind speed during the last 24 hours: 14 mph
Maximum wind gust in the last 24 hours: 25 mph
New snowfall in the last 24 hours: 0 inches
Total snow depth: 63 inches
weather

Partly sunny / partly cloudy skies today, with building winds as the next storm system rolls into the area Monday and Monday night.  Temps in the 20s and 30s today and Monday.  Tuesday could be a powder day!

Two-Day Mountain Weather Forecast Produced in partnership with the Albuquerque NWS
For 9000 ft. to 10000 ft.
  Sunday Sunday Night Monday
Weather: Mostly sunny, with building winds Partly cloudy and breezy. Partly cloudy with a 30% chance of snow in the afternoon.
Temperatures: high to 33 deg. F. low 28 deg. F. high to 40 deg. F.
Wind direction: W W W
Wind speed: 10-30 10-35 10-45
Expected snowfall: 0 in. 0 in. 0-2 in.
For 11000 ft. to 13000 ft.
  Sunday Sunday Night Monday
Weather: Partly cloudy with building winds Partly cloudy and breezy Partly cloudy with a 40% chance of snow in the afternoon.
Temperatures: high to 30 deg. F. low to 24 deg. F. high to 34 deg. F.
Wind direction: W W W
Wind speed: 15-30 15-35 20-45
Expected snowfall: 0 in. 0 in. 1-2 in.
Disclaimer

This snowpack summary applies only to backcountry areas. Click here for a map of the area. This snowpack summary describes general avalanche conditions and local variations always occur. This snowpack summary expires in 48 hours unless otherwise noted.

THIS SNOWPACK SUMMARY EXPIRED ON January 8, 2017 @ 5:06 am
Snowpack Summary published on January 7, 2017 @ 5:06 am
Issued by Andy Bond - Taos Avalanche Center

bottom line:

Clear skies and dry cold smoke are going to be hard to resist, but dangerous avalanche conditions exist today near and above treeline. Human triggered avalanches are likely,  cautious route-finding and conservative decision making are essential when traveling in the backcountry today.

Snowpack Discussion

The Thursday night storm brought less snow than was expected, but it did drop 10 to 12 inches of cold dry powder.  Winds diminished early Friday morning as the snow started to fall.  Clearing skies with light winds today will tempt all of us to want to ski the steep and the deep. It's easy to forget that just yesterday we were seeing naturals and human triggered avalanches.  Get out and enjoy this amazing snow, but remember dangerous avalanche conditions still exist near and above treeline with this recently fallen storm slab that can be large enough to injure or bury you on all slopes steeper than about 30 degrees. 

Strong West winds Thursday proceeded the storm early Friday morning.  Gusts were in the 60's with sustained winds in the 30 mph range.  This produced a cohesive wind slab with the snow available for transport even before the storm (See Video).  This wind slab in a lot of places is sitting on top of a crust that has small grain facets above and below and was producing easy shears and showing the willingness to propagate.  Early Friday morning a quick hitting storm dropped 10 to 12 inches of low density snow with about .9" of water as temperatures plummeted and the strong winds diminished.  Winds remained light on Friday and temperatures stayed frigid during the day and overnight with lows around -5°.

Evidence of natural avalanches was found in a lot of areas yesterday with peak instability occurring before the snow started to fall early Friday morning.  We were able to trigger storm slab avalanches yesterday on N through E aspects from the ridgeline that were fairly small and were either running on a crust before the storm or the interface between the storm snow and the wind slab that formed on Thursday (See Video)

The main concern today is storm slabs that have formed near and above treeline especially on N through E aspects. Although the snow seems light and fluffy, even a little bit of wind can stiffen up that snow to make it act as one cohesive slab like we were seeing in spots yesterday. These storm slabs were 1 to 2 feet in spots. Winds should remain relatively calm today but will pick up later this evening into tomorrow.  There is a lot of snow available for transport and expect this snow to start moving easily creating more cohesive and deeper wind slabs later this evening and into tomorrow.  

We also have a persistent slab problem that never strays to far from our minds.  This last storm was not enough weight to really test these persistent slab problems.  However, with increased wind loading here tomorrow and evidence of bigger triggers in newly formed cornices be aware that triggering a smaller slide has the ability to step down into these older layers.  

Come join us Wednesday January 11th at Taos Mesa Brewing (on the mesa) at 5PM for an hour long avalanche awareness talk where we will talk about the current snowpack, gear and the forecasting center.  

If you haven't brushed up on your avalanche transceiver skills we have a beacon problem up in Blitz area at TSV.  

 

Our next forecast will be Sunday Morning.  Stay safe out there and enjoy the snow!

 

 

Avalanche Character 1: Storm Slab
Storm Slab avalanches release naturally during snow storms and can be triggered for a few days after a storm. They often release at or below the trigger point. They exist throughout the terrain. Avoid them by waiting for the storm snow to stabilize.

8 to 12 inches of low density new snow fell early Friday morning with light W winds.  Below Treeline we are finding unconsolidated snow that makes for pretty good skiing on lower angle terrain.  Near and above treeline, especially on N through E aspects, we are finding more evidence of a little bit of wind that has made this light snow just a little bit more cohessive and willing to propagate and act like a slab.  We have seen and easilty triggered small avalanches that could injure or bury a rider. Human triggered storm slab avalanches are likely today on all steep slopes.  Where the snow is not cohessive we are seeing loose sluffs that are running fast on crusts or trenching down in the snow when running on a weak faceted snowpack.   Pay attention to obvious signs of instability such as cracking in the snow surface, whumphing collapse and recent avalanche activity.  Winds should remain relative light today 5 to 15 mph out of the West before picking up tonight into tomorrow.  If winds pick up earlier than expected, these 1 to 2 foot storm slabs will get larger and start to become more cohessive.

We triggered this small storm slab avalanche yesterday from the ridgetop on a ENE aspect around 12,000'

Avalanche Character 2: Persistent Slab
Persistent Slab avalanches can be triggered days to weeks after the last storm. They often propagate across and beyond terrain features that would otherwise confine Wind and Storm Slab avalanches. In some cases they can be triggered remotely, from low-angle terrain or adjacent slopes. Give yourself a wide safety buffer to address the uncertainty.

The persistent weak layers we are dealing with are still there on NW through S aspects near and above treeline. The recent low density snow was not enough weight to be of concern to these stubborn layers. However, smaller storm slab avalanches have the ability to step down into older layers creating the possibility for a large avalanche.  Look for smaller cornices to continue to grow as the winds pick up tonight which could produce a big enough trigger to get one of these persistent slab layers in the middle of our snowpack to pop. As West winds pick up tonight into tomorrow our storm slabs will get deeper with all the snow available for transport adding more weight to leeward slopes, that if triggered could be more willing to step down into these older layers.  Human triggered persistent slab avalanches remain possible today near and above treeline. 

  These could be very large, destructive avalanches.  See this video from 1/02 explaining our weak basal snowpack and persistent slab problem.

Here's an example of what the new snow fell on:

recent observations

While traveling in Long Canyon yesterday we saw several small natural storm slab avalanches that were running near and above treeline. 8 to 12 inches of low density snow fell early Friday morning with little wind.  Snow below treeline was unconsolidated but below ridgetops especially on N through E aspects there was a little more wind effect.  This new snow fell on a wind crust that formed Thursday before the storm with those strong W winds.  Both of these layers in many spots are sitting on a facet crust combo that is showing a willingness to propagate. We were able to trigger soft storm slab avalanches from the ridgelines running on this layer.  Cold temps at night and strong sun during the day will help drive this faceting process around that crust in the upper portion of our snowpack. See video from yesterday about the recent storm and the future problems we will be dealing with. 

 

CURRENT CONDITIONS Weather observations from the Wheeler Peak Wilderness between 9000 ft. and 13000 ft.
0600 temperature: 4.6 deg. F.
Max. temperature in the last 24 hours: 6.1 deg. F.
Average wind direction during the last 24 hours: W
Average wind speed during the last 24 hours: 5 mph
Maximum wind gust in the last 24 hours: 10 mph
New snowfall in the last 24 hours: 2 inches
Total snow depth: 65 inches
weather

The main story this morning is the bitterly cold temps with wind chill values in the -27 to -32F range.  Temperatures will rise through the day but will still be well below freezing.  West winds will remain light to moderate ( 5 to 15 mph) today before picking up this evening into tomorrow.  Our next shot at snow looks to be Monday night.    

Two-Day Mountain Weather Forecast Produced in partnership with the Albuquerque NWS
For 9000 ft. to 10000 ft.
  Saturday Saturday Night Sunday
Weather: Partly cloudy Partly cloudy Mostly sunny
Temperatures: high to 25 deg. F. low 17 deg. F. high to 35 deg. F.
Wind direction: W W W
Wind speed: 5-15 5-25 5-35
Expected snowfall: 0 in. 0 in. 0 in.
For 11000 ft. to 13000 ft.
  Saturday Saturday Night Sunday
Weather: Partly cloudy. Partly cloudy Partly cloudy
Temperatures: high to 19 deg. F. low to 15 deg. F. high to 30 deg. F.
Wind direction: W W W
Wind speed: 5-20 10-25 15-30
Expected snowfall: 0 in. 0 in. 0 in.
Disclaimer

This snowpack summary applies only to backcountry areas. Click here for a map of the area. This snowpack summary describes general avalanche conditions and local variations always occur. This snowpack summary expires in 48 hours unless otherwise noted.

THIS SNOWPACK SUMMARY EXPIRED ON January 7, 2017 @ 5:30 am
Snowpack Summary published on January 5, 2017 @ 5:30 am
Issued by Graham Turnage - Taos Avalanche Center

bottom line:

We are issuing an Avalanche Watch for the Wheeler Peak and Columbine Hondo Wilderness areas of the Sangre De Cristos.  Intense snowfall and strong winds will elevate the avalanche danger to HIGH Thursday evening and Friday, with human triggered and natural avalanches likely. An AVALANCHE WARNING will take effect Thursday night through Friday evening.  Travel in and below avalanche terrain in NOT RECOMMENDED,  once this storm turns on.

Snowpack Discussion

The past week has been a mellow one in terms of avalanche activity - and that is about to change.  While recent windslabs and deeper weak layers have gained strength, we are faced with a new problem; storm slabs.  Weather models are calling for upwards of 2 feet of snow with strong winds (60mph), starting Thursday afternoon through Friday. This is a scary situation as this new snow is subject to transport by these strong winds, which will form cohesive storm slabs. This new snow is falling on a variety of surfaces, but we expect these storm slabs to be unstable and to slide during and after the storm.  Conservative decision making includes avoiding avalanche terrain and runout zones.  As this storm snow accumulates, all slopes steeper than 30 degrees (and their runout zones) are suspect, at all elevations and aspects, and these areas should be avoided.  Our fragile snowpack has had a rest this week, but this is a rapid, heavy load, and it will likely test the buried weak layers to their breaking point.  

An AVALANCHE WARNING is in effect for Thursday night and Friday.  Travel in or under avalanche terrain is not recommended, and we expect to see both natural and human triggered avalanches with this storm.

Avalanche Character 1: Storm Slab
Storm Slab avalanches release naturally during snow storms and can be triggered for a few days after a storm. They often release at or below the trigger point. They exist throughout the terrain. Avoid them by waiting for the storm snow to stabilize.

New snow and strong winds is the story for this afternoon and Friday.  Up to 30" of snow and over 1.5" of SWE is forecast for our advisory area, and coupled with winds in the 60mph range the avalanche danger is on the rise.  Slopes in and below avalanche terrain will be dangerous places to be.  This new snow and windblown snow is falling on a variety of bed surfaces, including crusts and weak layers.  We expect to see natural and human triggered avalanches with this storm, Thursday night and Friday.  Avoid avalanche terrain as well as runout zones. This storm slab problem is dependent upon the timing of the approaching storm, which most models suggesting heavy snow will begin around sunset on Thursday, and continue into Friday morning.

Avalanche Character 2: Persistent Slab
Persistent Slab avalanches can be triggered days to weeks after the last storm. They often propagate across and beyond terrain features that would otherwise confine Wind and Storm Slab avalanches. In some cases they can be triggered remotely, from low-angle terrain or adjacent slopes. Give yourself a wide safety buffer to address the uncertainty.

Weak snow deep in our snowpack exists on most slopes.  Dense slabs have been quiet the past week or so, but today's storm load, coupled with plenty of strong winds will likely change that quickly.  The expected rapid load of snow and wind loaded snow will stress the buried weak layers in our snowpack, and deep persistent slabs are at risk of releasing.  These could be very large, destructive avalanches.  See this video from 1/02 explaining our weak basal snowpack and persistent slab problem.

Here's an example of what this new snow will be falling on:

recent observations

Field observations from the last few days have shown us one thing; variability.  Some slopes are blown bare, down to dirt and rock, while others are wind loaded and sketchy.  These observations are especially relevant because of today's approaching storm.  New snow and windblown snow will be falling on a variety of surfaces, and storm slabs aren't picky.  Knowing what is underneath this new snow is important, but our confidence is low that a rapid load like this will bond to much at all (see obs from 1/3/17). Buried layers of graupel and faceted crystals have been present in most of our pits this week, and stability tests suggest these layers are willing to fail and propagate with a load.  Expect this new snow to move, especially where the wind is able to transport it, and be conservative in your travel.  Our advice is to avoid all avalanche terrain as well as runout zones until the snowpack has a chance to adjust to this rapid load.

pic; buried layer of graupel

 

CURRENT CONDITIONS Weather observations from the Wheeler Peak Wilderness between 9000 ft. and 13000 ft.
0600 temperature: 19.3 deg. F.
Max. temperature in the last 24 hours: 20.2 deg. F.
Average wind direction during the last 24 hours: W
Average wind speed during the last 24 hours: 34 mph
Maximum wind gust in the last 24 hours: 65 mph
New snowfall in the last 24 hours: 0 inches
Total snow depth: 55 inches
weather

Strong winds and snow will impact the mountains Thursday afternoon into Friday accompanied by falling temps. Heavy snowfall at times, with strong W winds. The northern mountains will likely pick up the heaviest snowfall amounts so far this season. One to two feet is expected with near 3 feet possible in some locations. Winds will create blowing snow with blizzard conditions possible overnight. Very cold min temps will occur Saturday morning as thick snow cover blankets much of the area.

Two-Day Mountain Weather Forecast Produced in partnership with the Albuquerque NWS
For 9000 ft. to 10000 ft.
  Thursday Thursday Night Friday
Weather: Cloudy and windy with snow in the afternoon. Snow, heavy at times, with strong winds. 70% chance of snow in the morning, with flurries lingering throughout the day.
Temperatures: high to 36 deg. F. low 3-14 deg. F. high to 19 deg. F.
Wind direction: W SW W
Wind speed: 15-30 5-20 5-10
Expected snowfall: 2-4 in the afternoon in. 7-17 in. 2-4 in.
For 11000 ft. to 13000 ft.
  Thursday Thursday Night Friday
Weather: Cloudy and windy, with snow in the afternoon. Snow, heavy at times, with strong winds. Snow showers in the morning, with flurries lingering throughout the day.
Temperatures: high to 24 deg. F. lows 4-10 deg. F. high to 11 deg. F.
Wind direction: W W NW
Wind speed: 20-35 gusting into the 60s 15-30 5-15
Expected snowfall: 2-5 in afternoon in. 8-20 in. 2-4 in.
Disclaimer

This snowpack summary applies only to backcountry areas. Click here for a map of the area. This snowpack summary describes general avalanche conditions and local variations always occur. This snowpack summary expires in 48 hours unless otherwise noted.

THIS SNOWPACK SUMMARY EXPIRED ON January 5, 2017 @ 5:40 am
Snowpack Summary published on January 3, 2017 @ 5:40 am
Issued by Graham Turnage - Taos Avalanche Center

bottom line:

An inch or two of low density snow has fallen in the last 72 hours, and moderate winds have formed small, isolated wind slabs which will continue to grow today and tomorrow.  A weak overall snowpack exists on most slopes, although time has helped buried weak layers gain strength.  A persistent slab deep in the pack exists in many areas, mostly at higher elevations and Human triggered avalanches are possible today at and above treeline.

Snowpack Discussion

This week's forecast has disappointed the powder hound in all of us so far.  1 to 2 inches of new snow fell on Sunday, providing good skiing and riding, but also producing isolated wind slabs.  Winds are expected to increase today and tonight, which will aid in the stiffening of these fresh wind slabs.  Our persistent slab/ weak layer situation remains a concern, and will be tested when it gets its next significant load.  This can happen in one storm event, or slowly over time with incremental loading from the wind.  Avalanche activity has gotten hard to come by in the past week, but herein lies the challenge.  You can travel safely on most terrain without effecting the weak snow deeper in the pack - that is until you find a trigger point, where your weight can still trigger an underlying weak layer to fail.  The consequences of a deep slab avalanche can be catastrophic.  Video from Monday.

The state of our snowpack is telling some very different stories.  Up at higher elevations above treeline, the past weeks strong southwest and west winds have stripped windward aspects depositing snow on leeward slopes.  These loaded aspects can be several feet deep with firm surfaces. N through E aspects have the deepest snow but also multiple buried weak layers with the last avalanche cycle on December 26 serving as reminder of these buried weak layers  (See Photo).  Near treeline and below, cold clear nights with warmer sunny days have promoted near surface faceting and surface hoar development in protected areas (See Photos).  Southerly aspects have a firm sun crust on them.  As new snow starts to accumulate throughout this week it will be falling on very different snow surfaces depending on aspect and elevation.  It's a good idea to dig a bunch of quick of snowpits to get an understanding as to what this new snow will be falling on as we are going to see very different problems depending on aspect and elevation going forward.

As we get into a true mid winter snowpack and people are venturing further into our backcountry and travel conditions gets better, conservative travel and careful route finding are key to safely navigating avalanche terrain. Good communication with partners about observations, route selection and the overall objective for the day is paramount.  Make sure everyone in your group feels comfortable voicing their concerns, and adjust the day's plan based on those concerns.  Having a rescue plan is a good idea, as self rescue within your group is likely the only option.

Here's a video on strategic shoveling by BCA and another video on beacon search techniques also from BCA

We have set up the weekly beacon search problem at TSV, and will change it up every Monday.  See details here

We are also adding a Blog to our website where we can discuss more involved topics that don't fit in our forecasts.  The first blog post is about how to read our Snowpack Summaries

We will issue the next Snowpack Summary on Thursday morning.  If you get out in the backcountry, drop us a line at taosavalanchecenter@gmail.com with your observations.- Thanks!

Avalanche Character 1: Wind Slab
Wind Slab avalanches release naturally during wind events and can be triggered for up to a week after a wind event. They form in lee and cross-loaded terrain features. Avoid them by sticking to wind sheltered or wind scoured areas.

An inch or two of low density snow fell in the last couple of days, and we have seen the formation of small, isolated wind slabs on the leeward sides of ridges and gullies.  These fresh slabs vary in depth from just a few inches, to a couple of feet thick.  These slabs have formed above a variety of snow surfaces, and will be willing to slide on steep slopes and those with an underlying crust.  Winds are expected to increase a bit (into the 30mph range) today and tomorrow, which will likely aid in the formation of stiffer wind slabs.  Where these slabs are firm and dense, they have the potential to release and move cohesively, which can carry a skier or rider into an ugly spot or terrain trap. Remember, even a small slide can have disastrous consequences. Careful investigation of the snowpack with respect to steep, recently wind loaded slopes is important to safe travel, human triggered avalanches are possible in these areas.

Ridge winds loading leeward slopes from Monday.

 

 

Avalanche Character 2: Persistent Slab
Persistent Slab avalanches can be triggered days to weeks after the last storm. They often propagate across and beyond terrain features that would otherwise confine Wind and Storm Slab avalanches. In some cases they can be triggered remotely, from low-angle terrain or adjacent slopes. Give yourself a wide safety buffer to address the uncertainty.

Aptly named, persistent slabs can last a very long time, lurking below the snow surface.  Where this persistent slab is sitting on a buried weak layer, it is still possible to trigger large and destructive avalanches.  It has gotten harder to trigger these slabs, as the buried weak layers have had a rest from significant loading the last few days.  Time can be our friend, as these weak layers adjust to the weight of these overlying slabs.  A cornice drop or continued loading from the wind could still trigger these slabs.  See Andy's video about this potential.

This situation can be a tricky one, as we are not seeing obvious signs of instability like cracking and collapsing, and the last natural avalanche cycle was on Dec 26 - over a week ago.  This is not to say we shouldn't be suspect of hard, persistent slabs sitting on buried layers of weak, faceted snow.   The chances of triggering these slabs in fairly low, but the consequences are high. Where the snowpack is deep and dense, the weight of a skier or rider is generally not affecting these underlying weak layers, but if one happens to find the "sweet spot", and triggers one of these slabs, the resulting avalanche will be large.  This so called "sweet spot" is typically a thin spot in the slab, where the weak layer is closer to the surface, and can be triggered more easily.  Where these slabs are hard and cohesive, we are still seeing willing propagation of a several layers of buried facets, as well as a very weak layer of basal depth hoar on the ground.  See Graham's video from Monday.

Pit image from Monday, showing several slab/ weak layer combos.

 

recent observations

An inch or two of snow fell Sunday, with a little bit of graupel mixed in. We are seeing big variations depending on aspect and elevations. Observations from above treeline have been stiffening upper elevation wind slabs on N through E aspects (video).  Southerly aspects have been affected by last weeks sunny days and have a firm sun crust on them, providing a willing bed surface for these fresh wind slabs. Near treeline and below on shady aspects have a shallower overall snowpack with near surface facets and surface hoar growth. Although a shallower overall snowpack, travel and skiing at these lower elevations has been really good.  Stability test results from this week vary dramatically from place to place.  Where the wind has formed cohesive slabs, we are still able to trigger collapse and propagation of a buried layer of facets 1-3 feet below the surface. Shallower snowpacks near treeline and below still have depth hoar on the ground (See Photo Below).  Evidence of this slab/ week layer combo is the cycle of natural avalanches which occurred last week.   In areas without a cohesive wind slab, this buried weak layer has not been reactive - ie, there is no load on it, yet.  Careful investigation of the snowpack, and consideration of terrain variations with respect to recent wind loading is recommended.

Photo of a pit dug 12/31/16 on a NE aspect at 11,700'

 

Snowpilot image of a pit dug on a ENE aspect in the trees - weak structure with no cohesive slab.

CURRENT CONDITIONS Weather observations from the Wheeler Peak Wilderness between 9000 ft. and 13000 ft.
0600 temperature: 12 deg. F.
Max. temperature in the last 24 hours: 18.1 deg. F.
Average wind direction during the last 24 hours: WSW
Average wind speed during the last 24 hours: 15 mph
Maximum wind gust in the last 24 hours: 30 mph
New snowfall in the last 24 hours: 0 inches
Total snow depth: 56 inches
weather

Partly cloudy today and tomorrow with SW winds 10-25mph.  A slight chance of snow showers tonight and tomorrow, with little accumulation expected.  The next good chance for snow looks to be Thursday into Friday.

Two-Day Mountain Weather Forecast Produced in partnership with the Albuquerque NWS
For 9000 ft. to 10000 ft.
  Tuesday Tuesday Night Wednesday
Weather: Partly cloudy with a 10% chance of snow. Partly cloudy with scattered snow showers Partly cloudy with isolated snow showers
Temperatures: high to 34 deg. F. low to 22 deg. F. high to 35 deg. F.
Wind direction: W W W
Wind speed: 10 - 25 5-20 10-25
Expected snowfall: .1-.5 in. 0 in. 0.1 - 0.7 in.
For 11000 ft. to 13000 ft.
  Tuesday Tuesday Night Wednesday
Weather: Partly cloudy with scattered snow showers Mostly cloudy with scattered snow showers Partly cloudy with isolated snow showers
Temperatures: high to 25 deg. F. low to 17 deg. F. high to 26 deg. F.
Wind direction: W W W
Wind speed: 15-30 10-25 10-25
Expected snowfall: .1-.8 in. 0 in. .1-.8 in.
Disclaimer

This snowpack summary applies only to backcountry areas. Click here for a map of the area. This snowpack summary describes general avalanche conditions and local variations always occur. This snowpack summary expires in 48 hours unless otherwise noted.

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