|Backcountry downhill skiers, snowboarders, and others who may traverse slides and other steep open terrain in the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks must be aware of the risk of avalanche, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos advised today.
"The current snow storm in the Adirondacks will result in snow depths and conditions ideal for winter outdoor recreational activities like snowshoeing, cross country skiing, or simply enjoying the beauty of the mountains and forests," Commissioner Seggos said. "However, DEC cautions anyone planning to ski, board, or traverse backcountry slides and other avalanche-prone terrain in the High Peaks region or other high elevation mountains in the Adirondacks to be careful and be prepared for avalanche conditions."
Snow depths on high elevation slopes in the High Peaks range from three to five feet, with more snow expected into tonight. The new snow will fall on the current snow pack, which already has distinct layers formed by rain and melt/freeze cycles. Lower snow layers may be reactive to the added stresses of recent snows, creating conditions conducive to avalanches.
The current National Weather Service winter storm warning for northern New York for February 7, states light mixed precipitation will transition to moderate to heavy snow and continue through the evening. Snowfall rates of one to three inches per hour are likely during the midday hours. Gusty winds will develop in the afternoon and likely yield near-whiteout conditions due to blowing snow.
Avalanches can occur in any situation where snow, slope, and weather conditions combine to create the proper conditions. While much of the 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.
Avalanche danger increases during and immediately after major snowfalls and during thaws. The forecast for this weekend is for mostly sunny and partly sunny skies with temperatures above freezing. While this weather is appealing to outdoor enthusiasts, it also increases the danger of avalanches.
The majority of avalanches in the U.S. occur in the western mountains. However, avalanches do occur in the northeast and can have dire consequences. Last year, Vermont State Police, multiple volunteer search and rescue groups, and resort ski patrols received dozens of calls for assistance when more than 30 skiers and snowboarders required rescue. In February 2018, a skier on Wright Peak was trapped waist-deep in snow. He was escaped uninjured with the assistance of his companions. This is the same peak where one person was killed and five people were injured in an avalanche while skiing in February 2000.
DEC reminds backcountry winter recreationists to take the following precautions when traveling in avalanche-prone terrain:
- Cross-country skiers and snowshoers should stay on trails and avoid steep slopes on summits;
- Know the terrain, weather, and snow conditions;
- Dig multiple snow pits to conduct stability tests - do not rely on other people's data;
- Practice safe route-finding and safe travel techniques;
- Never ski, board, or climb with someone above or below you - only one person on the slope at a time;
- Ski and ride near trees - not in the center of slides or other open areas;
- Always carry a shovel, probes, and a transceiver with fresh batteries;
- Ensure all members of the group know avalanche rescue techniques;
- Never travel alone; and
- Notify someone about where you are going.
Additional information on avalanche danger, preparedness, and safety precautions is available on the DEC web site.