Resorts work to counter avalanches

Dec. 31, 2008 at 9:15 AM   |   Comments

SEATTLE, Dec. 31 (UPI) -- Three of the nine U.S. avalanche deaths during the past 17 days have been on patrolled slopes, prompting forecasters to call condition of the snow pack dicey.

Unusual weather patterns across the western United States left slabs of snow atop a brittle base, that in turn, raised the risk of avalanches at ski resorts -- where fatal avalanches are rare -- mountain passes and back country, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

"It's shaken everyone up. We haven't had this kind of problem in ski resorts for years," said Mark Moore, director of the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center in Seattle.

Resort operators said they're trying a number of methods to keep the snow safe, such as setting off explosive charges to workers stomping on the snow to pack it more tightly, the Journal reported.

But the snow pack is still the same -- "very risky," said Doug Abromeit, director of the U.S. Forest Service's National Avalanche Center in Ketchum, Idaho. "The conditions are so dangerous."

Meteorologists point to a weak bottom layer of snow for the problems. The first snowfall for many parts of the West was early in the fall when the ground was still warm, creating a layer of snow that doesn't bond well and is prone to cracking under weight.

Michael Berry, National Ski Areas Association president, said reports of avalanches may actually help resorts because the risk "speaks to the quantity of snow, and people will be drawn to that."

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