As the skies clear and we move into a period of quiet weather, don’t let your powder fever lure you into making poor decisions. More avalanche related fatalities occur during periods of CONSIDERABLE hazard than any other. Human-triggered avalanches are likely today and resulting avalanches have the potential to be large and destructive. Our forecast area provides a unique challenge to the backcountry enthusiast. The sheer size and diversity of our terrain often mean a dramatically different snowpack from one end to the other. This latest storm is a great example of this. While an eye-popping 8 ft of snow was recorded in the Mammoth area over a 72hr period, snow totals from areas south of Mammoth were significantly less. There are also places near the crest that likely received even more snow. This wide range of snow totals has a large impact on local hazards and travel implications. Take our persistent slab problem for instance. Counterintuitively, areas south of Mammoth with shallower snowpacks, (3-4 ft new snow) may provide a more problematic snowpack for the backcountry traveler. These areas held very little snow before this past week and the distribution of the persistent problem (old snow) will be more isolated. However, it will also be easier for a skier to impact these lower weak layers, potentially triggering a sizable avalanche. Conversely, in areas that received the high end of the snow totals (6-8+ft), these lower weak layers are more specific in distribution. The deeper overlying snow means it will be much harder for a skier to impact these lower layers, but a resulting avalanche would be much larger and more destructive.
In addition to the risk of avalanches today, there remains a risk of deep snow immersion. An otherwise benign fall could lead to suffocation in our deep unconsolidated snowpack.