ACMG Mountain Conditions report for the Rockies Jan. 31st, 2020

All weather forecasts point towards a weekend with heavy precipitation, warming temperatures and strong winds. Can you say "Rising Avalanche Hazard"?

Before this storm there was still lots of uncertainty with the Rockies snowpack. There was lots of variability across the region, a lingering deep persistent weakness, various midpack weak layers and the odd recent somewhat surprising big natural avalanche. This means that all this change (Heavy Precipitation, warming temps and strong winds) will really stress the snowpack and avalanche forecasters for awhile. In my travels I have also noticed that some big faces that have not slid for a while had very pretty looking recent unconsolidated snow on them and in the paths. This is now buried by the incoming snow and just means that some avalanches may run even farther than expected.

Jasper Park is forecasting Extreme Hazard at all elevations on Saturday, and all the other Mountain parks including Banff, Yoho, Kootenay, Glacier, Waterton and Kananaskis are at least High hazard in the alpine. So skiers and climbers are strongly advised to avoid avalanche terrain.

Don't overthink this problem! We may get some breaks in the weather early next week but the snowpack will need some time to adjust to this rapid high stress loading. In the long run this may be great for the snowpack. It will clean out some avalanche paths and the snowfall, warm temps and high winds will certainly lead to some mechanical compaction of the snowpack in lots of places but-this is all far down the road and still somewhat theoretical.

Ice climbers should be very aware that a big change like this may mean avalanches running in "unusual" places without big overhead hazard like King Creek, Whitemans Falls approach, maybe even Louise Falls? Sloughing big enough to knock a climber off may happen in places like Evan Thomas Creek. The Ghost River is certainly now very different from the dry windswept place most of us are familiar with.

For skiers, think about the possibility of triggering even small steep terrain features and look for low angle schnoodling with no overhead hazard at all.

This may be a weekend to work on your relationships, read illuminating books or cook for your friends? Or drink and smoke dope to excess? Just stay out of big avalanche terrain!!

Larry Stanier
ACMG Mountain Guide

On The Map

These observations and opinions are those of the person who submitted them. The ACMG and its members take no responsibility for errors, omissions, or lapses in continuity. Conditions differ greatly over time and space due to the variable nature of mountain weather and terrain. Application of this information provides no guarantee of increased safety. Do not use the Mountain Conditions Report as the sole factor in planning trips or making decisions in the field.