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Snow ranger: Human activity poses avalanche danger on Mount Washington

  • Mount Washington is seen in the distance of a 2007 file photo. Flickr—jason_burmeister



Monitor staff
Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The conditions on Mount Washington were so precarious Tuesday that the Mount Washington Avalanche Center warned human activity was likely to trigger avalanches.

Nowhere was the danger more pressing than in Tuckerman Ravine, which is a popular destination for backcountry skiers, wrote Snow Ranger Helon Hoffer.

“Natural avalanches are possible and human triggered avalanches are likely. Dangerous avalanche conditions exist. Careful snowpack evaluation, cautious route-finding and conservative decision-making are essential,” Hoffer wrote in a Tuesday advisory.

A lesser warning was issued for Huntington Ravine, where natural avalanches were deemed “unlikely” and human-triggered avalanches were “possible.”

Thirty-six hours of wind and heavy snow created wind slabs on Mount Washington, the center said, referring to a formation where the wind deposits snow in a pile that is likely to collapse in an avalanche.

“A fresh crown in the Lip (a specific segment of Tuckerman Ravine) is a sign that this area is on the edge of shedding its most recent layer of wind slab and may be reactive to a human-trigger,” the center warned.

The center wrote that it was “seeing signs” that the largest avalanches of the season occurred Monday, even before it issued continued warnings. The weather Tuesday didn’t increase the danger, it said.

The avalanche center is operated by the U.S. Forest Service and is the only one of its kind east of the Rocky Mountains, according to its website.

It observed 24 inches of snow since Sunday morning on the summit of Mount Washington and winds gusting as high as 80 mph.