13 January, 2017

What does the scale above mean to you as a skier or rider in the Gulmarg backcountry? Read more here.

gulmarg avalanche

Snowpack Discussion

Avalanche danger is Moderate (2) above 3000 meters.  Natural avalanches are unlikely, human triggered avalanches are possible. During snowpack observations two days ago, we found 3mm depth hoar on the ground at 3700m on North facing aspects that failed repeatedly upon isolation with extended column and compression tests.  What this means is we currently have a persistent slab problem, with our new snowfall of ~100cms (due to settlement) sitting on top of a persistent weak layer on the ground in the Alpine (above 3000m).  If history proves correct, the depth hoar is located not only on North aspects, but also all other aspects above 3000 meters. It’s essentially located anywhere there was early season snow on the mountain.  A skier once described it as “a mattress sitting on top of ball bearings”, which is an apt visualization of our current avalanche problem.  If you choose to ski the Gulmarg backcountry, you can avoid this avalanche problem, by staying on ridgelines, keeping your slope angles low, and avoiding large unsupported slopes.  We will be going out for more snowpack tests today. Tracks on a slope do not indicate that it is safe. A good mindset for the current avalanche conditions is, “Am I getting away with this, or am I choosing terrain appropriate for the current avalanche conditions.” A skier reported triggering a thin wind slab on a North aspect at 3500 meters yesteday afternoon. Newly formed reactive wind slabs exist beneath ridgetops and in sheltered areas mid-slope. See the avalanche problem description below to see which aspects.  It’s safe to say that the current avalanche danger is not Moderate, but a Scary Moderate because of the two avalanche problems described above.

Choose to ride in groups in the forests of Gulmarg. http://www.deepsnowsafety.org/index.php/. We now have enough snow in the conifer forests above 3200 meters for skiers and riders to get trapped in tree wells. Read more about this phenomenon in the link above. It causes several fatalities each year in other ski regions of the globe.


See daily snow observations, snow pits, and data from Luke Smithwick and the Gulmarg Ski Patrol. Sign up for a free Avanet account.
See daily snow observations, snow pits, and data from Luke Smithwick and the Gulmarg Ski Patrol. Sign up for a free Avanet account.


Avalanche Problem #1 – Persistent Slab

Release of a cohesive layer of soft to hard snow (a slab) in the middle to upper snowpack, when the bond to an underlying persistent weak layer breaks. Persistent layers include: surface hoar, depth hoar, near-surface facets, or faceted snow. Persistent weak layers can continue to produce avalanches for days, weeks or even months, making them especially dangerous and tricky. As additional snow and wind events build a thicker slab on top of the persistent weak layer, this avalanche problem may develop into a Deep Persistent Slab.
The best ways to manage the risk from Persistent Slabs is to make conservative terrain choices. They can be triggered by light loads and weeks after the last storm. The slabs often propagate in surprising and unpredictable ways. This makes this problem difficult to predict and manage and requires a wide safety buffer to handle the uncertainty.

Avalanche Problem #2 – Wind Slab

Problem Description – Release of a cohesive layer of snow (a slab) formed by the wind. Wind typically transports snow from the upwind sides of terrain features and deposits snow on the downwind side. Wind slabs are often smooth and rounded and sometimes sound hollow, and can range from soft to hard. Wind slabs that form over a persistent weak layer (surface hoar, depth hoar, or near-surface facets) may be termed Persistent Slabs or may develop into Persistent Slabs.

Wind Slabs form in specific areas, and are confined to lee and cross-loaded terrain features. They can be avoided by sticking to sheltered or wind-scoured areas.

Weather Forecast (link:http://www.snow-forecast.com/resorts/Gulmarg/6day/mid)


Gulmarg Ski Area (green zone) Timings for 13/1/2017:
Phase 1 – 9:30am – 4:30pm (last cabin at 4:15pm)
Phase 2 – 10:00am – 4:00pm (last cabin at 3:30pm)
Chair Lift – 10:00am – 4:00pm (last chair at 3:30pm)


Next avalanche talk is Tuesday 17 January, 2017 at 7:30pm at Pine Palace Resort. Pine Palace Resort is located in Gulmarg meadow. Talks will continue every Tuesday night at 7:30 pm through 28 March, 2017.