Avalanche Bulletin - Waterton Lakes National Park - Sun Dec 16, 2018

Issued: Sat Dec 15, 2018 21:51
Valid Until: Tue Dec 18, 2018 17:00

The snowpack in Waterton is extremely variable. Hazard is elevated along the divide where there is potential to step down to deeper layers. [AG]

Public Avalanche Forecast
Danger Ratings: Sunday alpine treeline below treeline
alpine: 3 - Considerable
3 - Considerable
  • Dangerous avalanche conditions. Careful snowpack evaluation, cautious route-finding and conservative decision-making essential.
  • Natural avalanches possible; human-triggered avalanches likely.
  • Small avalanches in many areas; or large avalanches in specific areas; or very large avalanches in isolated areas.
treeline: 2 - Moderate
2 - Moderate
  • Heightened avalanche conditions on specific terrain features. Evaluate snow and terrain carefully; identify features of concern.
  • Natural avalanches unlikely; human-triggered avalanches possible.
  • Small avalanches in specific areas; or large avalanches in isolated areas.
below treeline: 1 - Low
1 - Low
  • Generally safe avalanche conditions. Watch for unstable snow on isolated terrain features.
  • Natural and human-triggered avalanches unlikely.
  • Small avalanches in isolated areas or extreme terrain.
Forecast
Forecast Monday Tuesday
alpine View Alpine Danger Rating Trend 2 - Moderate 3 - Considerable
treeline View Treeline Danger Rating Trend 2 - Moderate 2 - Moderate
below treeline View Below Treeline Danger Rating Trend 1 - Low 1 - Low
Confidence: Moderate - Wind effect is extremely variable
High The forecast is based on high-quality information and the nature of the issue makes it possible to render a solid judgement. A 'high confidence' rating does not imply fact or complete certainty however, and such judgements still carry the risk of being wrong.
Moderate The information used to produce the forecast is credibly sourced and plausible, but it is not of adequate quality or sufficiently corroborated to warrant a higher level of confidence.
Low The credibility or plausibility of the information used to produce the forecast is questionable, or the information is too fragmented or poorly corroborated to make solid judgements, or there are significant concerns regarding problems with the sources.
Past 24 hour weather
Station Maximum (°C) Minimum (°C) Snowfall (cm) Snow Pack (cm) Wind speed Ridgetop wind direction
Little Prairie 1650m Not Available Not Available Not Available Not Available Not Available Not Available
Low
  • Generally safe avalanche conditions. Watch for unstable snow on isolated terrain features.
  • Natural and human-triggered avalanches unlikely.
  • Small avalanches in isolated areas or extreme terrain.
Moderate
  • Heightened avalanche conditions on specific terrain features. Evaluate snow and terrain carefully; identify features of concern.
  • Natural avalanches unlikely; human-triggered avalanches possible.
  • Small avalanches in specific areas; or large avalanches in isolated areas.
Considerable
  • Dangerous avalanche conditions. Careful snowpack evaluation, cautious route-finding and conservative decision-making essential.
  • Natural avalanches possible; human-triggered avalanches likely.
  • Small avalanches in many areas; or large avalanches in specific areas; or very large avalanches in isolated areas.
High
  • Very dangerous avalanche conditions. Travel in avalanche terrain not recommended.
  • Natural avalanches likely; human-triggered avalanches very likely.
  • Large avalanches in many areas; or very large avalanches in specific areas.
Extreme
  • Avoid all avalanche terrain.
  • Natural and human-triggered avalanches certain.
  • Large to very large avalanches in many areas.

Problem 1: Wind Slabs

Which Elevation?
Which Elevation? alpine, treeline
Which Slopes?
Which Slopes? north, east, southeast, northeast
Chance of Avalanches?
Chance of Avalanches? likely
Expected Size?
Expected Size? small - large

30cm of storm snow since Thursday on the divide along with strong west winds has created windslabs in the alpine and treeline. These are sitting on a weak snowpack and have the potential to step down to deeper layers.

Travel and Terrain Advice

  • Use caution in lee areas. Wind slabs may step down to deeper layers resulting in large avalanches.
  • Choose ice climbs that are not exposed to avalanches from above.

Problem 2: Deep Persistent Slabs

Which Elevation?
Which Elevation? alpine, treeline, below treeline
Which Slopes?
Which Slopes? southeast, south, southwest, west, northwest, north, east, northeast
Chance of Avalanches?
Chance of Avalanches? possible
Expected Size?
Expected Size? small - large

The bottom of the snowpack is a combination of crusts and facets that is reactive to large triggers.

Travel and Terrain Advice

  • Be aware of thin areas that may propogate to deeper instabilites.
  • Be cautious as you transition into wind affected terrain.
Problem Glossary
Dry Loose
  • Are usually small, but may gain significant mass on long steep slopes.
  • Are typically limited to steep terrain (40+ degrees).
  • Stabilize soon after a storm, usually within a few days.
Dry Loose avalanches are best managed by:
  • Avoiding terrain traps and large steep slopes until the surface has stabilized.
  • On large steep slopes, occasionally move across the fall line to avoid being caught by your own sluffs from above.
Wet Loose
  • Are more powerful than dry loose avalanches due to their higher density.
  • Are often limited to sunny slope aspects.
  • Are commonly confined to the warmest part of the day.
Wet Loose avalanches are best managed by:
  • Avoiding start zones and avalanche paths when the snow becomes moist from daytime heating, from rain, or does not freeze overnight.
Wind Slabs
  • Vary in size from small to medium.
  • Occur on steeper lee and cross-loaded portions of slopes (typically 35+ degrees).
  • Are often limited to specific terrain features such as lee ridge-tops.
  • Can often be recognized by the appearance of the snow surface, changes in surface snow hardness, hollow, drum-like sounds and/or shooting cracks.
  • Winds that vary in strength and direction can produce complex and unexpected wind slab patterns.
  • Stabilize fairly soon, usually in a few days to a week.
Wind slabs are best managed by:
  • Recognizing and avoiding areas where wind slabs have formed, until they have stabilized.
Storm Slabs
  • Vary in size from small to very large.
  • May be soft slabs, fooling people into underestimating slab potential.
  • Tend to occur on moderately steep slopes (35+ degrees).
  • May occur in all terrain, but are larger and more frequent in the alpine.
  • Stabilize soon after a storm, usually within a few days.
Storm slabs are best managed by:
  • Conservative terrain choices during and after storms until the storm snow has stabilized.
Wet Slabs
  • Involve wet layers in the snowpack, typically including deeper layers.
  • Tend to be large.
  • Occur when water forms or penetrates below the surface of the snowpack.
Wet slabs are best managed by: 
  • Avoiding start zones and avalanche paths when the snow becomes wet from daytime heating, rain, or lack of an overnight freeze.
Persistent Slabs
  • Slide on buried persistent weak layers, which often form during clear periods and may involve deeper layers from multiple storms.
  • Vary in size from medium to very large and may cross terrain barriers to involve multiple slide paths.
  • May occur on very gentle terrain, even slopes of 20 degrees or less.
  • May be localized to specific elevations, aspects, or regions.
  • There are often no visible signs of persistent slab instability.
  • Lack of avalanche activity and lack of danger signs are NOTreliable indicators of stability.
  • Compression tests and Rutschblock tests may locate persistent weak layers.
  • Stabilize slowly, tending to persist for several weeks or longer.
  • Often have dormant periods, becoming active again when the weather changes.
  • Are prone to lingering pockets of instability that persist long after most areas have stabilized.
  • Tend to release above the trigger, making it difficult to escape.
  • Are often triggered remotely from a long distance away.
Persistent slabs are best managed by:
  • Very conservative terrain choices.
  • Allow extra time for persistent slabs to stabilize and use a very cautious approach to new terrain. Be especially cautious after storms or during warming periods.
Deep Persistent Slabs
  • Slide on deeply buried persistent weak layers, which often form during clear periods or rain-on-snow events early in the season.
  • Involve thick, hard slabs, sometimes the entire snowpack.
  • Tend to be very large, commonly cross terrain barriers to involve multiple slide paths.
  • Tend to occur on larger slopes of moderate steepness, typically 30-40 degrees.
  • May be localized to specific elevations, aspects, or regions.
  • There are often no visible signs of persistent deep slab instability.
  • Lack of avalanche activity and lack of danger signs are NOT reliable indicators of stability.
  • Stabilize slowly if at all, persisting for months and often the entire season.
  • Dormant persistent deep slab instabilities often become active again when the weather changes, especially after storms or with warm spring weather.
  • Tend to release above the trigger, making it difficult to escape.
  • Are often triggered remotely from a long distance away.

Deep persistent slabs are best managed by:

  • Very conservative terrain choices and a very cautious approach to new terrain.
  • Be especially cautious after storms or during warming periods.
Cornices
  • May trigger large slab avalanches on relatively stable slopes below.
  • Are often associated with recent wind loading and/or temperature changes.
  • Can be triggered from ridges, sometimes breaking surprisingly far back onto ridge tops.

Cornices are best managed by:

  • Approaching corniced ridges cautiously.
  • Avoid travelling on or near overhanging cornices and limit time spent exposed to slopes below cornices, especially soon after wind events and during periods of warming temperatures.
Forecast Details

Weather Forecast

Sunday: Cloudy with flurries and moderate SW winds.

Monday: Cloudy with flurries and moderate to strong SW winds. Up to 10cm Sunday night through Monday on the east side of the park.

Tuesday: Models are in disagreement, with up to 20cm of snow in western areas of the park accompanied by moderate to strong SW winds and freezing levels rising to 1800m

Snowpack Discussion

The snowpack in Waterton is highly variable, but you can count on a weaker structure along the divide where 20-30cm of recent storm snow has formed windslabs on lee (east) slopes which are sitting on a weak snowpack consisting of facets and crusts.

Avalanche Activity Discussion

Though there have been few Avalanche observations in the park, our neighbors have been experiencing the first big cycle of the season. Several skier triggered avalanches to size 2 were reported on Alpine and Treeline E-NE slopes, as well as several avalanches from explosive triggers on the October 25 crust to size 2-3.

For More Details

Emergency: 911
Forecasters: (403) 859-5140

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