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DEC warns of avalanche danger

The state Department of Environmental Conservation is warning skiers, snowboarders, snowshoers and backcountry users of an elevated risk of avalanche danger in the High Peaks due to current conditions and the likelihood of more snow this weekend.

“Due to current snow depths and conditions, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, and the abundant amount of snow forecasted for this weekend, DEC expects an increase in the number of recreational enthusiasts visiting the High Peaks to snowshoe, cross country ski, or simply enjoy the pristine surroundings,” DEC commissioner Basil Seggos said in a press release. “We are cautioning anyone planning to head to avalanche-prone terrain in the Adirondack High Peaks to be extremely careful and be prepared for avalanche conditions.”

Although avalanches are not as common in the Adirondacks as in western states, the DEC said that last year a skier was trapped in an avalanche on Wright Peak – the same location where one person was killed and five injured in an avalanche in 2000. The Angel Slides on Wright Peak also trapped two others in an avalanche in 2010, with one being carried more than 600 feet down the mountain. The same slide avalanched in 2012 as well, but no one was hurt in that incident.

The department warned that skiers of all stripes should be prepared for the worst and carry shovels, probes and transceivers, and that multiple test pits should be dug to check snow conditions.

“About 90 percent of all avalanches start on slopes of 30-45 degrees; about 98 percent of all avalanches occur on slopes of 25-50 degrees. Avalanches release most often on slopes above timberline that face away from prevailing winds. This is because leeward slopes collect snow blowing from the windward sides of ridges,” the DEC’s avalanche page says. “Avalanches can occur, however, on small slopes well below timberline, such as gullies, road cuts and small openings in the trees. Very dense trees can anchor the snow to steep slopes and prevent avalanches from starting, however, avalanches can release and travel through a moderately dense forest.

“You can reliably avoid avalanches by recognizing and avoiding avalanche terrain. Travel on the valley floor away from large avalanche runouts, along ridgetops above avalanche paths, in dense timber, or on slopes of 25 degrees or less that do not have steeper slopes above them. Avoid cornices on ridgetops.

“You cannot entirely eliminate risk if you travel in avalanche terrain, but you can minimize risk by using good technique: climb, descend, or cross avalanche areas one at a time; cross a slope at the very top or bottom if possible; climb or descend the edge of a slope rather than the center; carry and know how to use avalanche rescue gear; and turn back or alter your route if you detect signs of unstable snow.”

In addition to being buried, people caught in avalanches can suffer from a number of other injuries, including blunt-force trauma from striking trees, rocks and stumps.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has issued a travel advisory for the state due to the predicted storm this weekend, which the National Weather Service says will drop anywhere from eight to 18 inches of snow in the North Country. The NWS has also issued a winter storm warning from 4 p.m. Saturday to 4 p.m. on Sunday.

“A Winter Storm Warning for snow means severe winter weather conditions will make travel very hazardous or impossible. If you must travel, keep an extra flashlight, food and water in your vehicle in case of an emergency,” the NWS said. “Please allow extra time if travel is necessary.”