In case you missed it – some of Colorado's peaks are already white-capped in snow, with more "significant snow" on the way in upcoming days. As winter sport lovers start to rejoice as seasons start to change, it's also important to be aware of how early season snow can impact backcountry risk.
In short, early season snow can create a weaker layer of snow beneath more regular later season snow, resulting in an inconsistent snowpack that can be more likely to break and slide.
When early season snow falls, it falls at a time when temperatures are still warming significantly between storms. This results in melting and weakening, which can prove problematic for months to come. If warm temperatures are enough to get rid of the snow completely, that's great, but they often aren't, meaning this crusty layer of lightly packed snow is set to be the dividing layer between more consistent winter snow and the ground.
This creates something called a persistent slab, which forms when a weak layer of snowpack is covered by additional layers. These persistent slabs can make snowpack dangerous and unpredictable, as breaks in the snowpack and avalanches become more difficult to predict. Persistent slab avalanches can be triggered remotely and even on low-angle slopes. Even if a great snowpack is on top, the persistent slab below can still mean uncertainty and an increased level of risk.
Given that early-season snow may lead to persistent slab concerns, it is that much more crucial to always check the Colorado Avalanche Information Center website for risk forecast prior to entering the backcountry. It's also crucial to educate yourself on signs of when persistent slab conditions may be present and on what to do should an avalanche occur. It is strongly suggested that those entering the backcountry in snowy conditions take an avalanche safety course, first.
Learn more about persistent slabs from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center here.
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