If you are recreating, please do so responsibly. This includes following social distancing requirements, not taking actions that risk pulling emergency service workers away from the important work they’re doing, or compromising their ability to continue that work.
To prevent spread of COVID-19, please do not travel to Flagstaff for recreation. If you are local to Flagstaff and choose to head to the backcountry, every effort should be made to avoid injuries. Now is not the time to visit a hospital which may be overwhelmed due to COVID-19. Know the conditions and know your limits!
The San Francisco Peaks picked up a few inches of snow (~0.5" of SWE) on Wednesday evening. Currently, natural avalanches are unlikely, human triggered avalanches may be possible where new wind slabs have formed or warm spring weather destabilizes the snowpack.
More unsettled weather is in the forecast. As the weather changes, expect corresponding changes in the avalanche hazard. Access to the backcountry currently requires a longer than usual approach, thus this summary is based on limited observations.
Currently Snowbowl Road remains closed. Long approaches/egresses to snowy backcountry slopes will be challenging, requiring extra planning, preparedness and effort. Arizona Snowbowl has suspended all operations, including avalanche hazard mitigation and rescue. Inbound terrain at Arizona Snowbowl is currently closed to all travel.
There is still evidence of failure propagation propensity in our late season snowpack. The suspect layers are facets and crusts about ~40 to 100 cm below the snow surface. There is a low probability (but possibility) that a backcountry traveler will initiate a failure in these buried layers. Though hard to predict, there is a possibility that a traveler may trigger a smaller wind slab or wet avalanche that then overloads these persistent layers, creating a larger more destructive avalanche with greater consequences.
It bears mentioning that caution in terrain selection and objectives is as important now as it has ever been. It is important to make conservative choices if there is any doubt, as injury in the backcountry may require extensive rescue and medical resources that are already strained in Northern Arizona in the midst of a pandemic. Please consider others in your recreational choices.
Spring travel strategies
Recent Avalanche Activity:
Near and Above Treeline:Watch for new wind slabs on north, northeast and easterly slopes. Watch for cross-loaded gullies and other terrain features. Expect winds to shift, possibly loading other aspects.
Travel may be incredibly firm and require ice axe and crampons. Expect dramatically changing conditions throughout the day. If you are making the long trek into the backcountry, come prepared. Conditions are likely to be extremely variable depending on wind exposure/loading and sun exposure.
Below Treeline:Significant melting has resulted in many obstacles at lower elevations. Be wary of the plentiful obstacles and avoid traumatic injury. Expect to find bare ground below 9,000' on northerly slopes, and below 10,800' on southerly slopes.
Watch for new wind slabs on north, northeast and easterly slopes. Watch for cross-loaded gullies and other terrain features. Expect winds to shift, possibly loading other aspects.
If a backcountry traveler does trigger a wind slab avalanche, it will likely be relatively small. However the force of that avalanche could overwhelm and step down into a deeper persistent weak layer, creating a larger and more destructive avalanche.
Forecast calls for cooler weather through the weekend and into next week. When warm weather returns, watch for evidence of wet snow instabilities. This includes saturated snow, roller balls and point-release activity. The structure of the snowpack remains poor and the possibility of loose wet avalanches and wet slab avalanches will increase during rapid warming, especially right after a storm.
Wet avalanche problems can generally be avoided by skiing earlier in the day and staying off of steeper slopes as temperatures warm up and slush becomes more than a few inches deep.
Numerous agencies are discouraging any high risk recreation activities, including backcountry travel. See the link in the "Overall" section above for a recent USFS press release regarding the Snowbowl Road closure.
KPAC is dedicated to informing the public of backcountry snow stability conditions, and providing avalanche education to winter enthusiasts.
For AZ Snowbowl access updates please refer to https://www.snowbowl.ski and www.flagstaffuphill.com.
Always carry the 10 essentials and avalanche rescue gear for wintertime wilderness travel. Submit your observations here. You may save a life!
Current conditions and long approaches require extra vigilance on the part of winter enthusiasts... be prepared, or don't go.
Updated on Friday April 10th
Unsettled gusty weather with seasonally normal temperatures prevailed on Kachina Peaks throughout last week, as a cut off low pressure system stalled over southern California’s coast. Most of the storm's energy was released as precipitation to our west in Nevada and southern California.
On Wednesday, the low moved eastward and northern Arizona received 1/2 inch of water recorded at Snowslide SNOTEL site. Most precipitation likely came in as rain, because the freeze line was relatively high; however, on Wednesday night, the snowline dropped to 7000' and the Peaks received 1-3 inches of new snow near treeline.
On Thursday night and Friday the system is expected to drift slightly southwest before ultimately dissipating, giving northern Arizona another slight chance of additional precipitation late Saturday through Monday.
As the week progresses, the jet stream shifts and a long wave trough builds to our north continuing the trend of unsettled and particularly windy afternoon weather. Precipitation, if any, is expected to be light. Looking towards next weekend, there is potential for a return of closed low pressure conditions, but timing and impact are currently too far out for an accurate prediction.
Since suspension of operations, Arizona Snowbowl is no longer reporting snow depths. Snowslide SNOTEL reports a snow depth of 47" (119cm) at 9,730 feet. So far this winter, 240" (610cm) of snowfall has been reported at 10,800 feet.
Since Friday April 3rd , SNOTEL temperatures have ranged between 51°F on April 3rd and 22°F on April 9th. ASBTP station (11,555') is not currently reporting information. Arizona Snowbowl Little Spruce (ASBLS) station (9379') reported a low of 20°F on April 9th and a high of 44°F on April 8th.