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Avalanches: Staying Safe in Spring

Posted by Erika Haugen-Goodman at Apr 08, 2019 06:25 PM |

It's spring and we're eager to get out on new trails, but with warming temperatures comes an increased risk for avalanches.

When we think of avalanches, we probably think of images of deep snow, winter-like conditions and freezing temperatures. But did you know that avalanches continue to occur, and in many cases are even more active in the spring? As warming spring temperatures rise, the winter snowpack becomes more unstable, making way for dangerous snow conditions in the mountains.

Know before you go

When hiking in the spring and early summer, it's always good to check the forecast and recent trip reports. These can help guide your decision on where you might want to hike. Snow can linger in the mountains well into the summer months on years with deeper winter snowfall, so preparing ahead of time for what you might face is your best bet to ensure a fun and safe outing. (Get more tips on other spring snow hazards, like snow bridges.)

Trip reports are a great resource for year-round trail information, but cross-referencing with mountain webcams and the snow depth data for Washington's SNOWTEL sites is also a good way to get a rough gauge on how much snow is still at higher elevations. Keep in mind this isn't an exact way to tell if the trail you want to hike is buried in snow, but it can give you an idea of what you might be facing at that elevation. TravelandhikewithPCOS
A weekend view shows plenty of snow in the high country at Nisqually in Mount Rainier from trip reporter TravelandhikewithPCOS.

Learn how to travel in avalanche terrain

If you plan to head into the mountains or backcountry in snowy months, it never hurts to take an avalanche course from local experts, like the Northwest Avalanche Center. Having the gear and know-how to navigate the backcountry will help mitigate any risks you might undertake. 

Avoid the snow altogether

If you'd rather not risk a run-in with snow, there are tons of low elevation hikes to enjoy throughout the year, even in winter and early spring.

Check out our Hiking Guide and search by elevation to find snow-free hikes near you. You can also sign up for Trail News and we'll keep you in the know and offer seasonal tips delivered right to your inbox.

Happy spring hiking!

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