ADIRONDACKS — Not every avalanche happens in the Mountain West, where a record was just set for number of people who died in avalanches in a single week.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation Saturday issued an advisory warning back country downhill skiers, snowboarders and others that conditions are ripe for avalanches in the High Peaks, and even steep open slopes outside the High Peaks like Snowy Mountain in Hamilton County.
“Recent storms have resulted in a significant amount of new snow and we are expecting an increase in the number of recreational enthusiasts visiting the High Peaks to snowshoe, cross-country ski, or simply enjoy the pristine surroundings,” DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said. “DEC is cautioning anyone headed to the Adirondack High Peaks region and planning to ski, snowboard, or traverse backcountry slides and other avalanche-prone terrain to be extremely careful and prepare for avalanche conditions.”
The last two weeks have seen at least two avalanches in the western Rockies that caused multiple fatalities among backcountry skiers. The National Avalanche Center said 15 people died between Feb. 1-8, setting a record. One death was in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, the others in the West.
Similar incidents in the Adirondacks are rare, but have occurred. The last documented fatality was on Wright Peak in 2000. Conditions, however, are currently right for avalanches.
The High Peaks have received approximately five to six feet of snow, with the majority accumulating over the last two weeks, DEC said. Due to high winds, snow depths are deeper on leeward slopes or areas of snow deposits, such as gullies.
The avalanche dynamic is that as snow accumulates over time it develops distinct layers formed by rain and melt/freeze cycles, DEC explained. When new snow falls onto previous snowpack, it adds weight and downward pressure. Lower snow layers may react to the added stress of recent snows, creating conditions DEC says are conducive to avalanches.
“Avalanches can occur in any situation where snow, slope, and weather conditions combine to create the proper conditions,” the advisory said. “While the majority of steep, open terrain is found in the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks, avalanche-prone terrain is found on mountains throughout the Adirondacks, including Snowy Mountain in Hamilton County.”
Cross-country skiers and snowshoers are advised to stay on trails and away from steep slopes on summits, avoid risky areas and know avalanche rescue techniques. DEC also says people should never travel alone, and let someone else know of their travel plans and estimated time of return.