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For the week of December 13 through 19, 2000

Avalanche danger 
will rise

New snow poses danger


By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer

There have been four avalanche fatalities in North America so far this fall and winter. Three occurred in Wyoming and one in Alaska.

A second avalanche fatality occurred at Teton Pass near Jackson, Wyo., last weekend, following a death the previous week.

Doug Abromeit, director of the U.S. Forest Service National Avalanche Center, based in Ketchum, said the avalanche conditions on Teton Pass are very similar to what will exist in the Wood River Valley and Stanley Basin as soon as it snows again.

"The entire West has similar conditions right now," he said. "What we have out there now is basically this homogenous snowpack. Itís nothing but loose, sugary snow."

Abromeit said the local conditions arenít a hazard as they exist, but as soon as more snow falls, the added weight will produce avalanches.

"As soon as we get some new snow on top of this loose, sugary snow, itís basically like putting a brick on top of loose potato chips," he said.

The sugary snow that abounds is the result of a thin snowpack exposed to cold air on one side and the warmer ground on the other. The resulting temperature gradient helps transform snow flakes into rounder, cup-shaped ice crystals, which donít easily bond with one another.

"If there isnít much snow, and itís cold, this is what we get," he said.

With new snowfall, forecast to occur this week, north faces and wind-loaded slopes will pose the most acute danger, Abromeit said, though conditions will likely be dangerous everywhere except where the older snowpack has melted off.

He advised people venturing out in the coming weeks to make decisions based on data collected during the outing.

"Be constantly gathering data and analyzing the stability of the snow. When people go out there, they shouldnít leave the door thinking they know what the stability of the snow is."

Furthermore, Abromeit said he is concerned that the lack of significant early-season snow will prompt locals to head to the hills in droves when it finally does snow again.

"A lot of people are jonesing to get out there, but they need to temper that with good judgment and good sense."

Before heading to the hills, check the Forest Service avalanche report at (http://www.avalanche.org/~ciac/bulletin.txt) or by calling 622-8027.

"If you donít have avalanche skills, stay on very low-angle slopes, 25 degrees or less. If you do have avalanche skills, donít take anything for granted. Err on the conservative side."

 

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