LAKE PLACID - With days of heavy snowfall leading to soaring temperatures last weekend, the state Department of Environmental Conservation was advising backcountry users that there is an increased risk of avalanches in the High Peaks.
DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos sent out the advisory Friday, Feb. 17 as crowds of tourists flocked to the High Peaks region for President's Week, a favorite time of year annually for vacationers.
"Recent storms have resulted in a significant amount of new snow, and we expect an increase in temperatures and the number of recreational enthusiasts visiting the High Peaks to snowshoe, cross-country ski, and enjoy the pristine surroundings," Seggos said. "We are cautioning anyone planning to traverse backcountry slides and other avalanche-prone terrain in the High Peaks to be extremely careful and be prepared for avalanche conditions."
The snowcapped High Peaks Wilderness is seen from Mirror Lake Drive on Friday, Feb. 17, a sunny day after consistent snow hammered the Adirondacks the week prior.
(News photo — Antonio Olivero)
The DEC reports that the Adirondacks have received approximately 18 to 26 inches of new snow through the past two weeks on top of a previous snowpack that has distinct layers formed by rain, melting and fluctuating temperatures.
Combined with high winds, the DEC reports snows depths are deeper on leeward slopes or areas of snow deposits, such as gullies, and depths in the mountains range from 32 to 46 inches.
The DEC warned recreationists that snow layers may be reactive to the added stresses of the recent snows, creating conditions conducive to avalanches.
The advisory also warned that avalanche prone terrain is found on mountains throughout other areas in the Adirondacks, singling out Snow Mountain in Hamilton County.
"Avalanche danger increases during and immediately after major snowfalls and during thaws," the DEC wrote. "The forecast for this weekend is for mostly sunny and partly sunny skies with temperatures climbing into the 40s. While this weather is appealing to outdoor enthusiasts, it also increases the danger of avalanches.
Avalanches do occur in New York and can have dire consequences. One person was killed and five people were injured in an avalanche while they were skiing a slide on Wright Peak in the High Peaks region in February 2000.
DEC recommended several precautions when traveling in avalanche prone terrain, including for cross-country skiers and snowshoers to stay on trails and away from steep slopes on summits, for recreationists to dig multiple snow pits to conduct stability tests, to never ski, board, or climb with someone above or below and to ski and ride near trees - not in the center of slides or other open areas.
They also recommended for those in the backcountry to carry a shovel, probes and a transceiver with fresh batteries.