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Arctic blast will bring 'most dangerous avalanche conditions we’ve seen this winter' to Colorado, CAIC says

Marble Peak avalanche 2024
Posted at 1:23 PM, Jan 12, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-12 15:57:33-05

Avalanche danger in Colorado will reach its highest of the season as a winter storm barrels toward the state.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) warned that new snow and strong winds will increase the chances of dangerous avalanches, with the worst conditions developing Saturday afternoon into Sunday.

"Avalanche conditions will be more dangerous than we’ve experienced in weeks," CAIC reported. "Adjust your weekend plans accordingly and check the forecast frequently for changing conditions."

Currently, snow totals are close to 4 feet in the Park Range, 2 feet in the Gore Range and Flat Tops, and nearly 20 inches for the rest of Summit County and Front Range mountains. Friday's winds — with gusts up to 60 mph — will drift stiff slabs of snow below ridgelines over weaker layers, the CAIC said.

CAIC issues special avalanche advisory for mountains through MLK Weekend

The Park Range, north and central mountains, and north side of the San Juans will pick up an additional 3 to 6 inches Friday into Saturday, according to CAIC.

After a mostly dry — but windy — Saturday, Pacific moisture will return late in the day, increasing in intensity on Sunday morning. This will drop an estimated additional 12 to 18 inches of snow, according to CAIC. On Monday, snow will continue in the northern and central mountains until the low-pressure trough moves east.

The avalanche warnings cover the following areas of Colorado:

  • Park Range (ends Monday 4:30 p.m.)
  • Ruby, Anthracite, and Ragged Mountains (ends Monday at 5 a.m.)

In both of these areas, CAIC said dangerous avalanches can be triggered by a person or may occur naturally. Traveling in any terrain that could see avalanche activity is not recommended. The danger is listed as 4/5, or high, at and above treeline in the Park Range. The layer of most concern is three to four feet deep, CAIC said.
Berthoud Pass, the Gore Range and the east side of the Continental Divide will have weak snow layers two to three feet deep, plus another weak layer near the ground.

"A stiff slab survived the prolonged dry spell in these areas, and it is hard to predict if or when the weak basal layers will reawaken," CAIC reported. "If this happens, large destructive avalanches will occur."

Some of the weakest areas will be close to Cameron Pass and Loveland Pass, where the snow is still shallow and avalanches will likely break to the ground.

"Although this shallow snow means it may take a little longer for the size to increase, avalanches may be easier to trigger, and a ride would still be dangerous," CAIC said.

In addition to the two avalanche warnings, multiple special advisories — indicated by blue exclamation points below — are in place.

january 12 2024 Colorado Avalanche Information Center

If triggered, avalanches will likely break on east-facing slopes at high elevations and close to ridgelines, CAIC said.

"We went from LOW to CONSIDERABLE and HIGH avalanche danger in the span of a week. These are the most dangerous avalanche conditions we’ve seen this winter. Avoid avalanche terrain," the department posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Check current conditions, warnings and more on the CAIC website here.