Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Huge slide triggered on Durrance Peak

Backcountry stability increasing after Christmas storms

Express Staff Writer

Photo courtesy Sawtooth National Forest Avalanche Center Matt Lutz, a forecaster with the Sawtooth National Forest Avalanche Center, stands next to the crown of a large avalanche in an east-facing bowl on Durrance Peak north of Ketchum last week. The avalanche, which ran over 2,000 vertical feet, was remotely triggered by fellow forecaster Chris Lundy on Dec. 27.

Stability is increasing in the backcountry after a series of storms created dangerous avalanche conditions during the Christmas holiday.

Numerous natural and human-triggered slides were reported during and after the storm cycle, including a large and destructive slide on Durrance Peak, a popular backcountry skiing destination north of Ketchum near the Sawtooth National Recreation Area headquarters.

That slide, which fractured 3 feet deep and ran over 2,000 vertical feet, was remotely triggered by Sawtooth National Forest Avalanche Center Forecaster Chris Lundy on Wednesday, Dec. 27.

Janet Kellam, director of the avalanche center, said forecasters typically don't intentionally trigger avalanches, but the storms created high danger and "we figured we better get there before anyone else did."

She said Lundy triggered the slide by "stomping around" a low-angle ridge adjacent to the bowl.

"We wanted to trigger something," Kellam said. "This was actually bigger than we expected."

The Class-3 avalanche sympathetically triggered three smaller but still large avalanches in the area.

Reports of slides out of bounds near Bald Mountain and in the Baker Creek area were also reported during and shortly after the storm cycle.

On Saturday, Dec. 30, a group of skiers triggered an avalanche in the upper elevations of Baker Creek after intentionally cutting and releasing a large cornice from a ridge.

The avalanche danger was rated moderate Tuesday, with a weak layer still looming in certain areas and aspects.

The avalanche center will host a free avalanche basics class Thursday, Jan. 4, at 6 p.m. in Room 301 of the Hailey Community Campus. Kellam said participants should get there a little early.

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