Snowpack Summary published on March 21, 2020 @ 6:20 am
Issued by Andy Bond - Taos Avalanche Center

bottom line:

Springtime snow and weather warrant careful attention paid to changing conditions.  New snow will bring loose dry and wind slab problems, while midday warming will bring the chance of loose wet and wet slab avalanches.  Excercise safe travel habits as weather changes will have direct impact on the avalanche hazard.

Snowpack Discussion

It's hard to write this as snowflakes fall outside this morning. With the recent closure of a road accessing the major trailhead in the area, we have decided to shut down operations for the remainder of the season.  This decision was not easy, but in these difficult times with COVID-19 and the uncertainty we face as a community in Northern New Mexico, we feel that this is the right decision.  Instead of trying to fight a closure we want to set an example and respect others wishes at this time. Ski resorts are closed in the area and many have different uphill policies.  Taos Ski Valley has reached out and wants to pass along that they have a no uphill policy right now.

Late season snowpack update:

We are no longer issuing  avalanche advisories for the remainder of the season.  There will be more storms before the end of winter, which may bring elevated avalanche conditions in our mountains. Here are a couple of things to watch out for through the remainder of spring if you do find yourself in the mountains.

A generally stable spring snowpack and long days allow folks to get out into higher, further, and rowdier terrain.  This brings with it an increase in exposure as we push into steeper and bigger terrain.  Don't turn off the avy savy senses and keep an eye out for changing conditions.  A few thoughts for interpreting spring avalanche problems:

As our snowpack is transitioning to a definitive melt/freeze situation our associated potential avalanche problems are loose wet slide and wet slab avalanches.   Consecutive nights without freezing temps should give cause for concern in relation to these problems.  Melting of the snow surface will result in snowballing and pinwheeling, which tells us that the wet slide hazard is rising and it's time to find colder snow.  Rain on snow events can also spike avalanche hazard as it can undercut any structure in the snowpack, causing wet slides.  Here is the link for the Powderhorn Snotel site which has hourly temps and total snow and water amounts.

New snow and wind will bring the potential for loose dry, loose wet and wind slab avalanches.  Monitor how the new snow is bonding to the underlying surface and reassess often as even a few minutes of sun on new snow can cause instability.  New snow instabilties generally heal fairly quickly with normal spring weather but careful snowpack evalution is essential for safe travel in avalanche terrain.

Spring can be an active time for cornice failure.  Be mindful that overhanging cornices create a dangerous situation and can break back further than we think.  Cornice falls can be fatal and the weight of a falling cornice can trigger an avalanche deeper in the snowpack.  Give these monsters a wide berth when travelling the ridgetops that harbor them, and be mindful that warming temps can be enough to trigger the release of cornices.

We would like to thank everyone who helped us get the Taos Avalanche Center up and running this season - it would not have been possible without all of you who donated gear, money, or your services, and those of you who shared your observations, participated in a talk or class, and provided moral suppot.  Thank you so much and know that we can only keep the avalanche center going with your continued support.  

Our plan is to be back next season, with more oppurtunities for avalanche education and courses through accreditied avalanche providers.  This year more than ever, avalanche forecasting and education funding is uncertain.  This will impact us for next season as we rely on donations from people like you to remain operational and provide a service that our community relies on. If you find yourself social distancing and want to brush up on your avalanche skills, check out the Know Before You Go e learning program

Take care of yourselves and loved ones and feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

Andy Bond



This snowpack summary applies only to backcountry areas. Click here for a map of the area. This snowpack summary describes general avalanche conditions and local variations always occur. This snowpack summary expires in 48 hours unless otherwise noted.