Avalanche Conditions Worsen in Backcountry

by Ben Pritchett, Colorado Avalanche Information Center

Issued at Wed, Mar 9, 2022 at 7:55 a.m.

Avalanche conditions are changing fast, for the worse.

Yesterday fresh powder consolidated on sunny slopes into a touchy slab. A skier triggered a soft-slab avalanche on an east-facing slope below treeline. The slab broke at the bottom of the recent storm snow, above a recent crust, on non-faceted snow. Today you can easily trigger this type of avalanche on many slopes. With a period of high-intensity snowfall and gusty winds later today, Storm Slab avalanche conditions will form quickly. Don’t let the fast-changing conditions catch you off guard on your second lap, or while you’re high-tailing it out of the storm this afternoon when you’re 3rd pair of goggles are packed with snow. As new snow loads approach a foot deep, dial back your terrain choices, even on previously-stable southerly-facing slopes.

Yesterday another skier triggered a very large avalanche that broke into the weak layer of facets buried in mid-February. This may be a one-off type event, but more likely it is just the first of a series of very large avalanches that will run over the next week. The recently formed slab broke on the “dryspell” weak layer formed during the prolonged drought from January and early February. This weak layer is made of large-grained facets and lurks through most terrain that faces north of west, through north to east.

While the load from today’s storm is not off-the-charts, the loading rates may reach critical. Following the recent slow loading and near-surface slab formation, a period of fast-loading might tip the balance towards. We’re not sure if this storm will drive a small natural avalanche cycle, but it might. We do expect the lurking slab and weak layer combination to come to life on northerly-facing terrain from a human-triggering perspective, so now is just not a good time to head into big northerly-facing terrain. Even small slopes could be dangerous with a terrain trap, so take extra care if you venture into terrain that faces north of west, or north of east.

A snowpack test showing unstable results around 11,600 feet on a northeast-facing slope above East Snowmass Creek. (ECTP13) March 4, 2022. Photo: CAIC

Frost Line Runs Deep at 10,200 Feet

“Spring might be on the calendar, but it’s not in the Leadville ground for another few weeks!” That’s what Greg Teter with Parkville Water District tells people this time of year when it comes to water and digging in the dirt.Because the truth is that while the snow retreats from lawns and winter’s ice dams begin to thaw, deep underground it will remain frozen for quite some time at 10,200 feet.

Snow Slides & Frozen Lines

In addition, this winter’s lack of snow has left little natural insulation for the earth, driving the frost level even deeper. Just one month ago, Parkville was fielding 2-3 frozen water line reports a week. People just waking up or returning to their VRBO and hearing nothing but a frozen squeak when they turn the faucet or wonder why the toilet tank isn’t refilling.

One of the symptoms that you may be headed to a complete freeze of your water lines is a seeming drop in water pressure, particularly in the morning. It might say spring on the calendar but overnight mountain temps are still hovering around freezing. And according to Teter, water circulation within your house doesn’t seem to weigh in as much as you’d think. After all, this time of year the frost line in the ground remains at an 8 – 9 feet depth. Most water and sewer lines are buried at the 5 – 6 foot mark. Once you do the math,it’s hard to believe that water circulates at all in 10,200 feet!

In fact, Teter recalls a water main line up on East 8th Street which was giving neighbors a problem back in 1998. When crews were finally able to cut into the ground to assess the situation, they encountered a solid 30-foot icicle clogging up the water main. That was in June!

If you think that you may be freezing up or are already there, and you are a Parkville customer, call the water district at 719-486-1449. They will instruct you about options and procedures, including being put on the drip list.

However, if you have no water coming from your faucet, and your lines are completely frozen, then you have one option in Leadville and Lake County. That man is Dan Duran. (719) 486-0122.

Duran & Lucero is the only licensed company who can ZAP your lines and get the water flowing again. If you’ve never witnessed the procedure in person, it can only be described as a complicated and somewhat dangerous method involving water and electricity. And it’s one of the reasons that Duran is one of the only licensed businesses insured to zap your water lines.He’s had a busy winter from Chaffee to Eagle County, because it’s been a deep frost level year for many places in the high country.

Yep, Dan Duran can get your water flowing, but then, please, listen to what he tells you to do.

“People have a hard time with the water flow advice,” explains Duran a recent visit to the LT’s home office to unfreeze some pipes. “One guy told me, ‘that’s wasting water and I’m not going to do that’ after I had to unfreeze his line. He didn’t do it overnight like I told him and sure enough, he called the next day told me his lines were frozen again.”

Granted, in a water-conservation, high-country culture the request to leave a stream of water the diameter of a pencil running from your faucet seems to go against good common sense. But it’s what you have to do until the ground thaws should your pipes freeze. And at a basement price of $300 bucks, getting a service thaw is not cheap. It’s best to not freeze up, by watching for the signs. But if you do contact, Dan Duran at Duran & Lucero Inc, 413 E 6th St, Leadville, Colorado 80461. Duran grew up in Leadville and has been in business since 1986.

Spring Foward on Sunday

Residents are reminded to spring their clocks forward one hour, initiating Daylight Savings Time which officially begins at 2 a.m. Sunday morning, March 13. The good news is that darkness falls one hour later, and that is generally okay with most Leadvillites.

Veterans Memorial Inscription Deadline: March 30

Honor a veteran with an engraving on the Lake County Veterans Memorial. CLICK for application.

It might seem a little out of the ordinary to be talking about Memorial Day in March, but there’s a good reason for it. March 30 is the deadline to submit an application for engraving on the memorial in order to be complete by Memorial Day 2022. This is an opportunity to honor those who served with a name engraving on the Lake County Veterans Memorial granite plaque. Families from Leadville, Lake County and across the United States can add the name of any veteran deceased or living to the south plaque.

In order to have the plaque readied by Memorial Day 2022, applications and fees ($75 per name) must be received by March 30, 2021. Please consider an engraving or a simple, straight-up donation by contacting Mabe, by email at mbogeart@co.lake.co.us, or by mailing a check to Lake County Veteran Memorial, PO Box 952, Leadville, CO 80461. To download an application: CLICK.