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Huge winter storm heads toward Vail as CAIC warns of dangerous conditions

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December 29, 2021, 4:22 pm

The National Weather Service has issued a Winter Storm Watch for the Vail area starting tonight (Wednesday, Dec. 29) and lasting through Saturday morning, Jan. 1, with up to three feet of new snow possible (see alert below), and the Colorado Avalanche Information Center is warning of dramatically increased avalanche danger in the new year (see press release below).

ROAN AND TAVAPUTS PLATEAUS-ELKHEAD AND PARK MOUNTAINS-GORE AND ELK MOUNTAINS/CENTRAL MOUNTAIN VALLEYS-FLAT TOPS-INCLUDING THE CITIES OF RIO BLANCO, COLUMBINE, HAHNS PEAK, TOPONAS, ASPEN, VAIL, SNOWMASS, BUFORD, AND TRAPPERS LAKE

253 PM MST WED DEC 29 2021

…WINTER STORM WARNING IN EFFECT FROM 11 PM THIS EVENING TO 5 AM MST SATURDAY…

* WHAT…HEAVY SNOW EXPECTED. TOTAL SNOW ACCUMULATIONS OF 12 TO 25 INCHES WITH LOCALIZED AMOUNTS UP TO 3 FEET. WINDS GUSTING AS HIGH AS 45 MPH.

* WHERE…ROAN AND TAVAPUTS PLATEAUS, ELKHEAD AND PARK MOUNTAINS, GORE AND ELK MOUNTAINS/CENTRAL MOUNTAIN VALLEYS AND FLAT TOPS.

* WHEN…FROM 11 PM THIS EVENING TO 5 AM MST SATURDAY.

* IMPACTS…TRAVEL COULD BE VERY DIFFICULT TO IMPOSSIBLE. PATCHY BLOWING SNOW COULD SIGNIFICANTLY REDUCE VISIBILITY, ESPECIALLY ON RIDGE TOPS. THE COLD WIND CHILLS AS LOW AS 25 BELOW ZERO COULD CAUSE FROSTBITE ON EXPOSED SKIN IN AS LITTLE AS 30 MINUTES. A DETAILED MAP OF THE SNOWFALL CAN BE FOUND AT: WWW.WEATHER.GOV/GJT/WINTER.

PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS…

IF YOU MUST TRAVEL, KEEP AN EXTRA FLASHLIGHT, FOOD, AND WATER INYOUR VEHICLE IN CASE OF AN EMERGENCY. 

THE LATEST ROAD CONDITIONS FOR THE STATE YOU ARE CALLING FROM CAN BE OBTAINED BY CALLING 5 1 1

Here’s the release from the CAIC:

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center says a long week of dangerous avalanche conditions will hit another highpoint in the last days of 2021 and urges people to avoid traveling on or under steep snow-covered slopes.

“Over the Christmas holiday weekend, an extended period of heavy snowfall and strong winds produced dangerous avalanche conditions,” said Ethan Greene, Director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. “We recorded over 200 avalanches in a three-day period, eight people were buried in avalanches, and one backcountry skier was killed.” Another intense snowstorm will impact the Colorado mountains Thursday and Friday with one to three feet of additional snowfall. “Avalanches are getting bigger; you can trigger them from adjacent flat slopes. They are breaking much wider than people expect.” Greene said.

The avalanche danger will rise to HIGH (Level 4 of 5) on Thursday and could reach Extreme (Level 5 of 5) on Friday. People should avoid traveling in backcountry avalanche terrain, including the run out areas of avalanche paths. Avoid being on or under steep snow-covered slopes.

Why is this important? 
Snowstorms this week brought two to eight feet of new snow to the Colorado mountains producing spontaneous avalanches breaking over a half-mile wide. Backcountry recreationalists are triggering avalanches from low-angle slopes (less than 30 degrees) that are connected to steeper terrain. Avalanches are breaking wider and running further than people expect. The avalanche danger will rise again on Thursday and Friday when another winter storm moves through the state.  

What can backcountry users do?
The most important thing you can do is check the avalanche forecast before going into the backcountry. Go to www.colorado.gov/avalanche or get the Friends of CAIC’s mobile app. Look at the current avalanche conditions and plan backcountry travel accordingly. Make sure you and every member of your group carry an avalanche-rescue transceiver, a probe pole, and a shovel – and know how to use this equipment. Stay on slopes less than 30 degrees steep that are not connected to steeper terrain. 

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