Tahoe storm could raise avalanche risk | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Tahoe storm could raise avalanche risk

Sebastian Foltz

With another storm on the way, Sierra Avalanche Center forecasters are cautioning that the threat of a backcountry slide may fluctuate over the weekend. Backcountry travelers should take caution. Wind-loaded slopes and loose storm slabs could once again become a concern.

“Any time there’s going to be a storm, there’s going to be a chance for increasing avalanche danger,” Sierra center forecaster Steve Reynaud said Thursday, Jan. 7. “Danger changes dramatically with the weather.”

As of Thursday afternoon, the center had listed avalanche danger at moderate below, near and above treeline — level 2 on their five-tiered scale. The rating means that human-triggered slides remain a possibility on slopes above a 30-degree angle.

The threat had been rated “considerable” or level 3 earlier in the week, but Reynaud said the previous storms had not delivered quite as much snow as anticipated.

While the threat level may rise again over the weekend, he explained that the overall snowpack picture has been promising.

“We’re doing great. There’s usable snow pretty much down to lake level,” he said, describing it as a welcome change compared to recent down snow years. “It’s a great time to recreate.”

With substantial snowfall in December, he said the snowpack has been able to stabilize.

“We’ve transitioned from an early season (less-stable) snowpack to a mid-season snowpack,” he said. “The layering is getting more uniform and stable.”

For backcountry users, that means a lower avalanche risk outside of storm cycles. Users should always remember to check the Sierra Center’s forecast leading up to and on the day of any backcountry trip.

“Things can change pretty quickly out there,” he said.

Looking ahead, Reynaud added, “It’s great to see storms lined up pretty much through the next week. Keep in mind, the avalanche danger will change.”


With strong December snowfall and early January storms already adding another 7 to 20 inches to the snowpack, area resorts are setting up for yet another banner weekend.

“It’s freaking amazing right now,” Kirkwood and Heavenly Mountain Resort spokesman Kevin Cooper said. “We’re well on our way to a 600-inch winter as long as El Niño.”

Kirkwood, Sierra-at-Tahoe and Heavenly all announced that they now have 100 percent of their terrain open for the season.

And for the first time in four years, Kirkwood will soon be able to offer their backcountry cat-skiing operations, according to Cooper.

“It’s some of the best skiing on the mountain,” he said of the return of Kirkwood’s Expedition: Kirkwood (EK) cat-skiing offering. Cooper said they need to build the snow road for the cat, which could likely happen following next week’s storms.

Heavenly will have the official season opening of its High Roller Terrain Park Saturday, Jan. 9. The event will feature the mountain DJ booth equipped snowcat and music throughout the day.

The area’s next storm system is expected to bring an additional 2 to 5 inches of snow at lake level starting Friday night, Jan. 8. Up to a foot could fall at higher elevations.

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