23 January, 2017

What does the scale above mean to you as a skier or rider in the Gulmarg backcountry? Remember, this advisory is for the Gulmarg backcountry, which means the terrain that is outside of Gulmarg Ski Area. The red areas in the photo below are the Gulmarg backcountry, and the green area is Gulmarg Ski Area. This advisory does not apply to the green zone ski area. Read more here.


gulmarg avalanche

Snowpack Discussion

Avalanche danger is Moderate (2) at and above 3000 meters here in the Gulmarg backcountry.  Natural avalanches are unlikely, human triggered avalanches are possible.  The #1 avalanche problem for today is Persistent Slab above 3000 meters. The areas with snow in the avalanche problems below contain depth hoar, and have a slab sitting on top of this persistent weak layer.  Do take notice that this persistent weak layer also exists right at treeline (see photo in avalanche problems below).   Avalanche Problem #2 today above 3000 meters are Wind Slab avalanches.  See the avalanche problems description below to understand these two avalanche problems further.  Moderate (2) avalanche danger means just that. The snowpack is only Moderately well bonded. If routes are selected carefully, the conditions for snowsports activities are favorable. If weak layers exist deep in the snowpack, as they do here currently, medium-sized avalanches can be triggered in the large unsupported bowls of the Gulmarg backcountry.  Tracks on a slope do not indicate that it is stable. Control work yesterday by the ski patrol in the ski area revealed widespread reactive wind slabs on Northerly aspects. As you ride up the second phase of the gondola today, take notice of where avalanches were ski cut yesterday. From this you can infer where in the Gulmarg backcountry you will find the same instability, and with a slab beneath that is sitting on a persistent weak depth hoar layer. The snowpack outside of the ski area has not been subjected to routine ski cutting and explosives for avalanche mitigation. When you leave the ski area, you are in a wild snow pack. Triggering a sizeable wind slab could be the load that is enough to trigger the deeper persistent slab beneath. Choose terrain wisely.

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.

A photograph of Mount Apharwat from 22 December 2016. Where you see snow in this image is likely where depth hoar persists.

Avalanche Problem #2 – Wind Slab

Release of dry unconsolidated snow. These avalanches typically occur within layers of soft snow near the surface of the snowpack. Loose-dry avalanches start at a point and entrain snow as they move downhill, forming a fan-shaped avalanche. Other names for loose-dry avalanches include point-release avalanches or sluffs. Loose-dry avalanches can trigger slab avalanches that break into deeper snow layers.

Loose Dry avalanches are usually relatively harmless to people. They can be hazardous if you are caught and carried into or over a terrain trap (e.g. gully, rocks, dense timber, cliff, crevasse) or down a long slope. Avoid traveling in or above terrain traps when Loose Dry avalanches are likely.

Further observations

Another observer image. An image of the depth hoar present today at the base of the snowpack in Khilanmarg 1 at 3900 meters on a North aspect. This is a persistent slab problem. A large slab of snow sitting on top of a persistent weak layer. Strong over weak. Reason enough for you to choose conservative terrain in the Gulmarg backcountry. “Am I getting away with this, or am I choosing terrain appropriate for the current conditions?” Low probability, high consequence situation.

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


Gulmarg Ski Area (green zone) Timings for 23/1/2017:
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 24 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.