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!
Natural avalanches are unlikely, human triggered avalanches are still possible. This summary is based on limited observations as access to the Kachina Peaks backcountry currently requires a longer than usual approach. As the weather changes, expect corresponding changes in the avalanche hazard.
Currently Snowbowl road remains closed for broader community health and EMS resources reasons. Long approaches/egresses to snowy backcountry slopes will be challenging and require extra planning, preparedness and effort.
The past week brought several inches of new snow and cool temps on March 27-28. The snotel site at Snowslide canyon recorded 4 inches with an increase in snow water equivalent of 0.2 inches. The rest of the week brought gradually increasing temperatures as well as moderate to heavy winds, generally SW. Limited observations indicate a springtime corn cycle at lower elevations. Increasing temperatures may also bring the possibility of wet avalanche activity. The structure of the snowpack remains poor and the potential for activation of weak layers during the heat of the day may increase this week.
Arizona Snowbowl has suspended all operations, including avalanche hazard mitigation and rescue. Inbound terrain at Arizona Snowbowl is currently closed to all travel.
With recent wind, starting zones from many major paths have been stripped. While snowfall from Mar 27 appears to have been minimal and light, look for potential wind slab on the lee side of slopes. Winds from the week of Mar 28- April 3 have been largely SW with NE winds recorded as well.
It bears mentioning that while the likelihood of avalanche activity has decreased in the last week, 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 this week and for the rest of the season.
Spring travel strategies.
Recent Avalanche Activity:
- There was a relatively small soft slab natural-avalanche in Snowslide Canyon Bowl, likely on March 18 or 19th. See previous summary.
- On Saturday morning, March 14, while using explosives in a closed area, AZ Snowbowl Ski Patrol triggered an avalanche on a northwest slope near 11,900 feet. The crown was 2-4' deep. It ran approximately 800' and was about 75' wide. The debris pile was ~4' deep where it stopped above the Spur catwalk. The failure occurred within frozen needles resting on the March 11 rain crust. Various rain crusts have shown reactivity throughout the snow pack.
- No human triggered slab avalanches reported in the backcountry this season.
Near and Above Treeline:Snotel and Snowslide canyon reported 4 inches of new, low density snow on March 27-28. Northeast winds followed the storm which then shifted to southwest. While limited observations indicate decreasing hazard within the snowpack, the possibility for wind slab avalanches from this recent snow as well as the prior week's snow remains. Look for evidence of wind slab formation on leeward slopes and evaluate carefully.
Furthermore, the structure of the snowpack remains poor and the possibility of loose wet avalanches and wet slab avalanches exists. With high temps percolating water can further weaken buried weak layers, increasing the possibility of avalanche. Watch for evidence of instability as temperatures rise throughout the day. This includes saturated snow, roller balls and point and release activity.
Morning travel may be incredibly firm and require ice axe and crampons with dramatically changing conditions throughout the day. If you are making the long trek into the backcountry, come prepared. Conditions on the same path are also likely to be extremely variable depending on wind exposure/loading and sun exposure.
Below Treeline:Expect many obstacles at lower elevations as temperatures warmed at the end of March, causing significant melting. Where snow continues to exist, observations indicate the beginnings of a corn cycle. With a rise in elevation, the structure of the snowpack remains complex and poor, retaining the possibility of wet avalanches with upcoming warm weather. Be wary of the plentiful obstacles and avoid traumatic injury.
Reports from this past week indicate significant wind loading throughout the Kachina Peaks.
While the last snowfall of 4 inches of low density snow was recorded on March 27-28, wind can transport snow many times faster than snowfall. Many northerly and northeasterly slopes were already loaded from prior weeks and may be further loaded. Use an abundance of caution in these areas.
Warm temperatures forecast throughout the week bring the possibility of wet avalanche danger. This 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.
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.
Weather updated Friday April 3rd
Last weekend started with a short wave of low pressure from the north bringing light precipitation to the Peaks. This accumulated another 4 inches of snow recorded at Snowslide SNOTEL station on Saturday morning. Later in the week, a shallow low pressure trough passed to our north, kicking up afternoon winds and possibly a few snow flurries over higher terrain; otherwise, springlike temperatures prevailed. Daytime high temperatures climbed to 54°F at 9,730 feet on Tuesday afternoon, nighttime temperatures dipped to freezing. Brisk afternoon winds out of the south and southwest during Tuesday through Thursday shifted to westerly and northwest later in the period.
Our weekend is predicted to be clear and dry with moderate to high winds out of the west and southwest. The winds will usher in a high-energy closed low-pressure system scheduled to arrive mid to late next week. The National Weather Service forecast calls for a 30-50% of snow showers next Thursday. Temperatures will be in the high 30’s during the day, and mid to high 20’s F at night, bringing a healthy melt freeze cycle to the snowpack.
Since suspension of operations, Arizona Snowbowl is no longer reporting snow depths. Snowslide SNOTEL reports a snow depth of 54” (137cm) at 9,730 feet. So far this winter, 238" (599cm) of snowfall has been reported at 10,800 feet.
Since Friday March 27th, SNOTEL temperatures have ranged between 54 ° F on March 31st and 17° F on March 28th. ASBTP station (11,555’) is not currently reporting information. Arizona Snowbowl Little Spruce (ASBLS) station (9379’) reported a low of 16° F on March 28th and a high of 52° F on March 31st.