Winter weather has finally returned in New York State after a long stretch of mild temperatures making it feel more like Spring. If you're heading out to enjoy the snowy mountains, be advised. There is a risk of avalanches in the Adirondack Mountain backcountry.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) advised skiers, snowboarders, and all outdoor adventurers of possible avalanches in the High Peaks region.

"After several spring-like days, the return of winter weather is exciting for skiers, snowboarders, and other winter recreationists," said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. "But with that change in weather comes some serious risks, including that of avalanches in our High Peaks region."

There are several avalanche-prone areas throughout the Adirondacks, including Snowy Mountain in Hamilton County. And there has already been avalanche activity seen in the Adirondacks this season.

Huge real avalanche in the French Alps with the moon and blue sky


Adirondack Avalanches

There were a few avalanches in the Adirondacks last winter, one that was suspected of killing Thomas Howard, a hiker who planned to climb Mount Colden. Forest Rangers and volunteer rescuers found him a week after he went missing buried under approximately four feet of snow.

Evidence suggests an avalanche may have occurred at the site.

An avalanche buried two skiers last February. Luckily, they managed to dig out. Both skiers had proper safety gear and practiced rescue techniques before the trip.

Credit - Nicolas Cool via Unsplash
Credit - Nicolas Cool via Unsplash

How to Minimize Risk

If you're heading into the Adirondack mountains, you need to be able to recognize and avoid avalanche terrain. Travel on the valley floor away from large avalanche runouts, and avoid cornices or hanging masses of hardened snow. Always carry an avalanche transceiver (or beacon), shovel, and a collapsible or ski-pole probe during avalanche conditions.

Credit - Nikola Mihajloski via Unsplash
Credit - Nikola Mihajloski via Unsplash

What to do if Caught in an Avalanche

If caught in an avalanche, first try to escape to the side, or grab a tree or rock. If knocked down, get rid of poles, skis, and a heavy pack. Swim with the avalanche to try to stay on top and avoid trees. When the avalanche slows down, reach for the surface or make an air pocket.

Credit - Krzysztof Kowalik via Unsplash
Credit - Krzysztof Kowalik via Unsplash

Safe Travel Techniques

  • Never put everyone on the slope. Only one person should be on the slope at a time.
  • Plan an escape route. Always think avalanche - What will you do if the slope slides?
  • Use slope cuts. Keep your speed up and cut across the starting zone, so that if the slope slides, your momentum can carry you off the moving slab into safer terrain.
  • Watch out for cornices, which tend to break farther back than expected. Never walk out to the edge of a drop-off without first checking it out.
  • Use terrain to your advantage. Follow ridges, thick trees, and slopes with safer consequences.
  • If there's no other choice, go underground. You can almost always weather out a bad storm or bad avalanche by digging a snow cave or seeking the shelter of a crevasse. You may be uncomfortable but you will be alive.

If you are planning a trip to avalanche-prone territory, research the route ahead of time. You can contact a Forest Ranger for information about a specific location, the DEC website has phone numbers for every Ranger listed by region.

Additional information on avalanche danger, preparedness, and safety precautions is available on the DEC website.

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