Avalanche in Maroon Bowl triggered naturally

by Carolyn Sackariason, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer

Aspen zone avalanche danger is considerable

A massive avalanche occurred sometime Monday night or Tuesday morning in Maroon Bowl, highlighting just how unstable the snow currently is in the backcountry. The slide occurred naturally and no one was injured.

Brian McCall, forecaster for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC), estimated that the slide traveled 3,200 feet and reached Maroon Creek.

It was an impressive avalanche with three aspects involved — on the north, northwest and west facing slopes. It also broke nearly to the ground, reaching the weak layer at the bottom of the snowpack. Maroon Bowl is located adjacent to Aspen Highlands and the breakage points were clearly visible to those hiking Highland Bowl on Tuesday morning.

“It’s one of the bigger ones I’ve seen,” McCall said.

He noted that the weak layer in the snowpack was created by weather conditions during the early part of the season.

Couple that with high winds after midnight and a foot of fresh snow, and conditions were ripe in Maroon Bowl, he said.

CAIC forecasters expect that the spring storm is expected to continue through tonight before easing up Thursday. The avalanche danger for the Aspen zone is considerable.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see more avalanches,” in the backcountry, McCall said.

He added that the Summit County zone is under high danger for avalanches, and there have been a few slides there in recent days.

McCall said he would be very leery about going into the backcountry right now, especially on northeast and northwest facing slopes.

He said it’s been an interesting spring with all of the late-season storms, when backcountry enthusiasts are typically in search of corn skiing in April. That activity will likely be happening in May at this point, he said.

“I haven’t seen the typical springtime traffic” in the backcountry because people are aware of the danger lurking, he said.

The CAIC’s website said, “in the terrain surrounding Independence Pass, Ashcroft and the Castle and Maroon Creek valleys, as well as other areas to the north and east within the Aspen zone, deep persistent slabs are a significant concern again. This problem has plagued the Aspen zone since early March and it will continue today. ... The deeply buried weak layers are most problematic on upper-elevation slopes that face northwest through east, where snowpack is still cold and winter-like. The recent new snow and wind loading will have stressed that lower snowpack weak layer again and large natural or triggered deep slab avalanches could occur today, especially on north through east aspect above treeline.”

sack@aspendailynews.com