The Sawtooth Avalanche Center (twitter feed @sawtoothavy) has raised the local avalanche warning to “HIGH” today (up from “considerable.”) They warn backcountry skiers, snowmobilers and hikers to stay away from both slopes and outruns below avalanche paths. Slides are going to occur on all aspects of central Idaho mountains, north, south, east and west, due to wind loading, unstable slab built over old “ball-bearing” layers of snow, and recent new snowfall. (Avalanche controlled slopes within ski area boundaries are not included in the warning, but off-piste skiing is a Very Bad Idea right now.) The short term warning continues through Monday, but all backcountry explorers should exercise caution in the mountains throughout the winter.
Tragically, recent and historic slides have caused damage, injury and claimed lives, on seemingly safe slopes, flats below avalanche chutes, and even roadways and houses below slide zones. Local high avalanche zones include Warm Springs Road and Galena Summit, but may also include side roads near recent burned areas and access roads in side canyons. The Community Library has considerable resources related to avalanche dangers and maintaining safety in mountainous terrain. Check out the books Backcountry Skiing, Avalanche Essentials, and the DVD A Life Ascending. Our Regional History Library has numerous photos of historic slides, including the North Star Mine disaster in 1917.
How do you minimize your risks and maximize your fun in avalanche country? Be aware of conditions, and make mountain and snow conditions a lifelong learning project. Also–as with scuba diving, seek professional and local guide advice, and never ski/snowboard/snowmobile/snowshoe the backcountry risk areas alone. The Sawtooth Avalanche Center has an interactive tutorial on avalanche basics, and links to safety courses with Sawtooth Mountain Guides and Sun Valley Trekking.
Know your snow, look it up @The Community Library.