West Elk Wilderness obs

CB Avalanche Center 2020-21 Observations

Date of Observation: 01/18/2021
Name: Ben Pritchett

Zone: Northwest Mountains
Location: West Elk Wilderness
Aspect: East, South East, South
Elevation: 9,300-11,600′

Weather: Ridgeline Wind Speed: 10-20 mph
Ridgeline Wind Direction: NW
Wind Loading: Light
Temperature: 17 F
Sky Cover: Broken
Depth of New Snow: 1 cm
Depth of Total Snow: 70 cm
Weather Description: Overcast at sunrise turning to partly cloudy by late morning. Brisk winds at ridgetop did not have much snow to move.

Snowpack: On east to southeasterly-facing terrain below and near treeline we found a generally faceted snowpack with an exceptionally weak snow surface. We moved through and over lots of avalanche terrain with no collapsing or shooting cracks. We skirted around the margin of one recently wind-loaded slope just below the ridge crest. In a lower angled part of this slope we found an ECTX 17 (slab fracture), that popped cleanly in a compression test on the Dec 11 interface (top of the large-grained depth hoar below an old melt-freeze crust). This structure would probably not propagate across a slope given the weakening slab, but with additional loading I would anticipate the old Persistent Slab problems will come back to life. Even now, if there was a portion of this slope with a stiffer mid-pack slab I would expect to get different (propagating) results. With a bit of uncertainty, we opted out of center punching the steepest parts of slope. While the chance to trigger might be lower, any avalanche would probably gouge to the ground and grow large South-facing slopes had a well developed sun-crust capping a layer of very weak facets. Not good news once slabs develop on top.