FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - The Coconino County Sheriff's Office and the Coconino National Forest are warning backcountry mountain travelers to be alert for potential avalanche hazards on the San Francisco Peaks.
The early season snowpack, coupled with recent clear and cold nights, wind events, and a large amount of new snow could produce hazardous conditions in the backcountry. This includes the side country bordering the Arizona Snowbowl Ski Area.
Avalanche mitigation and patrolling is conducted within the boundaries of Arizona Snowbowl, but there is no avalanche control or routine patrolling in the forest outside of Snowbowl. Those traveling into the backcountry need to be prepared for and understand the conditions prior to venturing out.
Avalanches most commonly occur during a storm or within 24 hours of the storm ending. However, unstable conditions may persist long beyond that timeframe. Backcountry travelers need to understand the conditions and the warning signs of avalanche activity.
People venturing into mountainous terrain should carry avalanche rescue equipment such as a shovel, avalanche rescue beacon, avalanche probe, and winter survival gear. Good wilderness navigation and route finding skills are essential. Be prepared for travel and emergencies in the remote winter mountain environment where rescue is not immediate. Do not travel alone, and always leave a detailed trip plan with a responsible person. It is important to review recent weather reports and forecasts as well as driving conditions prior to and during your trip. Carrying a cell phone is recommended; however, it may not always work in backcountry locations and should not substitute for good judgment and preparation.
While there is no avalanche forecasting center for the San Francisco Peaks, the backcountry community can obtain a snowpack summary from the Kachina Peaks Avalanche Center at www.kachinapeaks.org and see observations by other backcountry travelers. Natural avalanche activity had been reported on the San Francisco Peaks prior to this current storm. In addition to snow observations, the Kachina Peaks Avalanche Center provides educational materials on the website as well as sponsoring Introduction to Avalanche seminars and more in depth avalanche field training. The next Introduction to Avalanche seminar is Jan. 15 at 6 p.m. at Aspen Sports in downtown Flagstaff.
Winter backcountry travel into the Kachina Peaks Wilderness Area from Arizona Snowbowl and Snowbowl Road requires an annual backcountry permit. This includes the parking areas at FR 522 and Lamar Haines Wildlife Area. Backcountry permits are available for free in Flagstaff at the Peaks Ranger Station, 5075 N. Highway 89, and the Coconino National Forest Supervisor's Office, 1824 S Thompson St. Permits also will be available at Arizona Snowbowl's Agassiz Lodge on weekends during business hours.