Recent Avalanche Activity

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Two days ago, my husband noticed three skiers leaving the base area at Crystal Mountain headed for the East Peak/Bullion Basin area. While the clouds had parted, revealing pristine peaks ringing our valley, the strong wind blew plumes of snow, adding to the huge cornices hovering over fragile slopes. Naturally, John glanced up at Ted’s Buttress, the large cross-loaded cornice that builds on the north side of East Peak and hangs over the lodges below C Lot.

It looked fat.

So he called Paul, the patrol director, to tell him about the three backcountry skiers he’d seen heading in that direction, skins on their skis, packs on their backs. And he wondered if they knew the avalanche hazard. It was obviously high that day.

By the time he got off the phone and turned back to look at the Buttress (which he can see from his office window) it had slid. Warming temperatures that day, combined with wind transport and recent snow loading created enough stress for the slope to avalanche naturally. From a higher location on Crystal Mountain, I could see the significant debris at the base of the buttress, covering old timber and getting dangerously close to the lodges. The crown, which extended several hundred yards across the slope and down the ridge, looked quite deep–at least six feet deep compared to nearby trees that were dwarfed by the large crown. No one has yet ventured up there as the avalanche hazard is still too high and the hang fire is still too dangerous. But I can tell you, it’s a significant event.

Last weekend, when we opened Southback at 3 p.m., evidence of recent avalanche activity extended from Joe’s Badass Shoulder all the way to Dog Leg. A jagged crown followed the contours of the ridge and dipped down into a face just below Chicken Head, which looked to be another large crown of approximately 6-8 feet.

A BIG slide near Mt. Baker Ski Area broke out on Shuksan arm two days ago, with early reports coming in that it was bigger than the slide in 1999. I was there for that one, searching for bodies with my avalanche rescue dog. Our probe poles, at ten feet, were simply not long enough to probe the thirty feet of debris that rested on the bodies, which wouldn’t be found until all the snow melted. Fortunately, no one was caught this time, even though the slide covered over hundreds of recent ski tracks. It was a very close call.

Today for the south-central backcountry areas near Crystal Mountain, the NWAC is forecasting Considerable Hazard above 5000 feet and Moderate below. The avalanche rose, shown here, depicts the hazard for specific elevations and aspects. Notice how between north and northeast aspects, the increased hazard extends lower–this is due to the south, southwest winds that have loaded these aspects.

Needless to say, be careful out there. Today the weather forecasters are calling for a brief break in the clouds this afternoon. Don’t let the sunny weather lull you into a false sense of security. Warming temperatures will increase the hazard today. So stay safe.

Danger Scale Legend

5 = Extreme avalanche danger
4 = High avalanche danger
3 = Considerable avalanche danger
2 = Moderate avalanche danger
1 = Low avalanche danger
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2 responses »

  1. Thanks Kim for the update and warning. You didn’t say if the backcountry skiers were OK. Did you get to look at pics of the slidepath and debris field from the slide last week in Clark Canyon at Meadows? 2.5 miles long and 50-75 ft deep!

    • Sam,
      Sorry if I didn’t make that clear–the three backcountry skiers were okay. The avalanche occurred just moments after they left the base area, and so were not anywhere near it when it happened. Thanks to the clear weather, we were also able to confirm there were no ski tracks near the crown or the debris. And yes, I did hear about the Meadows slide. Yikes! I should have added that one in here too.

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