After Palisades Tahoe avalanche, how to stay safe on the slopes

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Individually, each of these five red flags doesn’t usually mean there is avalanche danger, Keating said. But when observed in multiples, the risk has increased, and discretion is called for.

Rapid snowfall: There’s no scientific formula, but Caleb Burns, co-owner of SWS Mountain Guides, suggests that any significant snowfall in a short amount of time can be a red flag.

“If we’re looking at 10 inches in a day, 20 inches in a day — that’s a lot,” he said.

Diagram shows recently fallen snow can add extra weight on the snowpack, causing it to weaken and break off.

Signs of recent avalanches: Burns referred to avalanches as a “herd species.”

“If you see signs of an avalanche, there are probably more to come,” he said.

They may not be obvious to an untrained eye, but an old avalanche can look like “a still photo of a waterfall” or a mudslide that’s been painted white, he said.

Diagram shows signs of debris at the bottom of a slope can indicate a recent avalanche.

Strong winds: These can move and shift snow easily, Burns said, and pile up a thicker layer of weak snow in areas.

Diagram shows winds can blow snow to already overloaded snowpacks, creating unstable conditions.

“Whumpfing”: This is the sound that can be heard when snow begins to collapse, showing cracks next to snowshoes or skis.

The sound is made when air escapes through the snow because of the crack, Burns said. It’s common to see small cracks when you’re walking or treading new snow, “but if a crack runs 10 feet away from you, that’s not normal,” he said. “It’s a sign of instability. The snowpack is not happy, and something is going on.”

Diagram: Weight from people and machines adds pressure to the lower snow layer, causing the snow above it to drop and slide.

Rapid warming: Sunny skies after a storm that dumps several inches of snow can be welcome but could also be concerning, Burns said.

Rapid, significant warming after a cold start can make snow less stable.

“If you go in the morning and you have your layers [of clothing], and then midday you’re down to a T-shirt, then the snowpack is changing,” he said.

Diagram shows a rise in temperature may cause the snow to melt into water and weigh down the snowpack, making it unstable.

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