Heavy snow should settle snowpack – patience, caution needed for a few days

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – The valley is still abuzz over the double-shot storm cycle we were treated to this month. With record-setting snow sitting up on yonder mountains, is it safe to get after it yet?

Buckrail talked with avalanche guru Bob Comey who was eager to dig into the current state of the snowpack and what backcountry users might expect.

“That was a pretty substantial storm cycle,” Comey said. “First that part that hit town pretty hard in February 3-5. Then there was a short break before that next storm came in.”

In all, February has dumped 10 feet of snow on Rendezvous. More in other locations. And as anyone who had to shovel it can attest: that snow was heavy. Analytics back that up. Water content for the 121 inches of new snow is 10 inches—meaning, had that been rain it would be equivalent to 10 inches of water. That’s a bunch, and it has Comey concerned.

“That’s a lot of weight to any snowpack in just over a two-week period,” Comey admitted. “Any weaknesses in the snowpack will be exposed by that much weight. You are going to have avalanches when you load that much snow.”

Snowpack Tracker (Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center)

Now what?

When can we play on it, Bob?

The good news is that much snow, as heavy as it is, will begin squishing what’s underneath it as it settles. Those persistent weak layers from December and January will begin to adjust and the snowpack is expected to gain a lot of strength in the coming days with the cooler temps.

“Each day you’ll see that total depth changed from maybe 102 inches at Rendezvous to 100, then 98 the next day as the snow settles. At the higher elevations in the Teton Range you could end up with a pretty stable snowpack in a few days,” Comey said.

That comes with a caveat: Stay out of dangerous areas until they set up.

“People become bolder about where they choose to ride as the snowpack seems more stable. Keep in mind though, what you are triggering now is likely to be a big avalanche,” Comey warned.

Another point to consider is mid and lower elevations—sometimes not given the respect and caution they deserve.

“Places like Togwotee Pass, Greys River; they had less snow fall there. And that snow is on rotten snowpack. With this shallow snowpack, these weak layers will take much longer to settle. These area will actually be a lot worse for avalanche,” Comey said.

As always, conditions changed daily. Know before you go and remember, no matter what the avalanche forecast says, your judgement trumps everything. If you don’t like what you see out there, save it for another day.

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