Spring is an overwhelming time for outdoor lovers. What to do? You’ve got single track opening up, clear, not-too-hot conditions for long road rides, trails to run and hike, new sport routes to check out, and even the garden is begging for attention. But – I’m just being honest here – it ain’t skiing or snowboarding. And you have all summer to fiddle with those other activities. You know you’ll be dreaming of blower face shots in August. Now is the time when days are long, skies are clear, the snowpack is fat, and extra sunscreen and a large brim hat replace hand warmers and an extra beanie in the corner of your pack. The best part is that you can go into terrain you’d never touch mid-winter because the avalanche danger is low.
Except when it isn’t. Spring carries some baggage; some factors we don’t think as much about mid-winter. Some new avalanche problems lurk. Glide avalanches and wet snow avalanches come to mind as the sun gets higher. These are not as well understood or easy to predict as mid-winter storm and persistent slab issues. They can cause massive destruction. The sun is not always your friend – remember Frosty the Snowman? Sun can weaken snow, cause it to get damp and heavy and water to percolate down until it finds a layer to lubricate. Snow gets strong, then weakens and goes through some serious trauma before we can paddle or fish it. Avalanche danger can rise from non-existent to High in a few hours, then back again – timing is everything.
The Utah Avalanche Center has prepared this video to point out some of the avalanche issues that we deal with in the spring. Check it out, heed the lessons, and remember that riding spring snow with a lot of bare skin really isn’t a great idea even if it is warm enough.