Avalanches hit backcountry regions across the state over the weekend after a series of storms dumped snow on Colorado late last week.
About 50 avalanches were reported Saturday and Sunday after the holiday snowfall, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
But the slides were “no surprise if you’ve been paying attention to the fragile snowpack structure that this new snow fell on,” the center said in a post to its Facebook page on Monday.
“We received numerous reports of the signs of instability — cracking and collapsing, often leading to avalanche release. Fortunately serious involvements with moving snow were not reported,” the post says.
Many of the avalanches took place in the San Juan Mountains in spots like Red Mountain and Wolf Creek passes, according to the center’s website. Loveland Pass also saw several slides, as did the Aspen area.
The largest avalanche reportedly happened on Wolf Creek Pass, according to the center. The slide, observed by a center forecaster, was rated “R4/D2” — meaning it was relatively large, considering its path, and would have been capable of burying, injuring or killing anyone in its way.
No known injuries were reported in the slides, according to the center’s website.
From Wednesday through Saturday, mountain regions across the state saw a winter weather event that meteorologists said was long and drawn-out, leaving the Continental Divide and the Western Slope covered. The eastern San Juan Mountains were hit the hardest, getting three or four feet of snow, according to the Weather Service.
Deep snow drove a 16-hour rescue mission that saved 22 people and two dogs on U.S. Highway 285 between Kenosha Pass and Fairplay on Saturday, The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office said. Agencies used a tracked snow vehicle to save stranded drivers..
The storms created textbook triggers for avalanches.
“It really has to do with heavy amounts of new snow falling on layers of old snow that have already crusted over,” said Kathy Torgerson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pueblo. “So of course with this heavy snow event we had after a period of warmer temperatures, we had that condition, which contributes to avalanche danger.”
High winds, too, could have whipped up and redistributed the snow, creating uneven loads that are more susceptible to slides, Torgerson said.
Though the snow has ended, avalanches “remain a real possibility” the state’s avalanche information center said on its Facebook page. “Take the time to carefully evaluate the snow and terrain. It’s just the beginning of what we all hope to be a safe and enjoyable winter.”
As of about 5 p.m. on Monday, the center had rated avalanche danger as “moderate” in most of the state’s backcountry zones, including the Sawatch and Front Range areas as well as Vail and Summit County. Danger was rated as “considerable” in the San Juan, Gunnison and Aspen zones, the center reported.
Snow is likely to return to the high country later this week, the National Weather Service has forecast.
“Right now, it looks like the southwest mountains will probably be getting several inches later this week,” Pamela Evenson, a meteorologist with the Weather Service in Pueblo, told The Gazette on Monday evening.
The “quick-moving” system will mostly be in New Mexico, edging into Colorado on Wednesday night or Thursday morning, Evenson said.
“It’s not going to linger like that last event did,” she said.
The San Juan and La Garita mountains could see 7 to 10 inches, Evenson said. Accumulation in the Pikes Peak region and along the Front Range will likely be much lighter, she said.
The Colorado Springs and Denver areas might see snow Thursday morning, according to the Weather Service.
There’s a 30 percent chance of precipitation in Colorado Springs on Thursday, with a chance of snow showers mixing with rain after 10 a.m. and gradually ending.
EDITOR’S NOTE: A previous version of this article stated that there were three slides reported at the Crested Butte Mountain Resort over the weekend. Those slides were originally reported on the Colorado Avalanche Information Center’s website, but had been removed from the website by late Monday afternoon. The story has been revised to reflect the change.