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Winter Comes Late, Brings Avalanche Danger

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Photo Credit Ryland West

Photo Credit Ryland West

With the return of a dreaded dry season, locals are depending on the phenomenon, “Miracle March” to rescue their pow turns. Early Spring in Tahoe is notorious for its consistent storm cycles and so far, it has not disappointed.

With three days into the month, Squaw Valley is reporting 68 inches of new snow. Before dusting o the skins, backcountry enthusiasts are cautioned of potential danger.

The new storm has come at the expense of an unstable snowpack, resulting in several avalanches, including in-bounds slides at both Squaw Valley and Mammoth Mountain Resort.

“What people don’t realize is, even though there’s a bunch of new snow it doesn’t mean its safe to ride,” Sierra Nevada College alumni Dylan Hagan said.

With the influx of new snow, avalanche forecaster Brandon Swartz expects to see more people traveling out to recreate in the backcountry. Swartz says that most of the avalanche issues will be activity directly related to storm snow.

As Spring proceeds, March will present additional obstacles that are typically less apparent than in January and February. Swartz said they are going to be looking at more significant warming post storm.

“This time of year, the incoming solar radiation is much stronger than in December and January so when the storm clears and it’s a sunny day we will see rapid warming in the snowpack, potentially seeing loose wet or wet slab avalanches.”

According to the Sierra Avalanche Center, loose wet avalanches, “typically occur within layers of wet snow near the surface of the snowpack, but they may quickly gouge into lower snowpack layers.”

They are more of a worry during a “Miracle March” as the direct sunlight hits the new snow directly a er a storm.

Swartz stressed that people recreating the backcountry choose their own degree of risk where and when they travel. The warmer temps and direct sunlight are, “additional factors in the avalanche problem that people need to be incorporating into their travel plans and terrain management.”

There is an edict in the backcountry to exercise basic safety precautions. “It’s very important that they have the gear, the training, the avalanche forecast, and are making constant observations in the field to get the stability picture to stay out of harm’s way while in the field,” the center recommends.

The Sierra Avalanche Center posts every day throughout the season with a detailed description of snow observations, on different aspects and accumulated knowledge from a team of highly trained professionals.

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Winter Comes Late, Brings Avalanche Danger