Spring is bringing warm weather and sunny skies to Colorado, heightening the danger for cornices and "wet and punchy" snow avalanches containing "bus-sized" chunks of snow and ice.
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) is warning backcountry travelers of spring avalanche danger spiking in the mountains as the snowpack turns wet and unstable.
Cornices are one of the main avalanche concerns as the mountains start to shed their "winter skin." Cornices or overhanging masses of snow, can break off unexpectedly, sending giant chunks of old snow ripping down the mountainside.
#CAICGunnison MOD(2of5) Avoid wind-drifted areas on north to east to south-facing slopes.These will look smooth & round, could be hard & hollow & you could see cracking. Indicating danger. If the snowpack is less than 4 feet you can trigger deeper slides. https://t.co/hKpGLbR18O pic.twitter.com/suR4fVJALA— CAIC:Statewide Info (@COAvalancheInfo) March 31, 2021
"At first, the threat is greatest from people or snowmobiles triggering a release that can break far back from the overhanging lip, or scarp of the cornice," the CAIC warned in a recent Facebook post. "Later, as the warm spell continues these can begin to fail naturally."
The CAIC released the following video highlighting the concern for loose wet slides.
"Please give these monsters lots of room so we can avoid an awful pattern repeating here in Colorado this spring," the CAIC added.
Twelve people have been killed in avalanches in Colorado so far this season, with this winter among the deadliest in state history.
Backcountry travelers should avoid thin spots on a slope. Conditions will change rapidly for areas with less than four feet of snow. For a quick strength test in upper snowpack, stand on the snow in your boots. If you punch through past your ankles, you should move to lower angled and less sun-exposed slopes.
Editor’s note: If you're going out in the backcountry this spring, always let someone know exactly where you’re going and the time you expect to return. Never travel into avalanche terrain alone. Always bring a beacon, shovel, and probe with you and know how to use them. Check the daily avalanche forecast at avalanche.state.co.us.