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With Recent Snow Comes Avalanche Danger on the San Francisco Peaks

Derik Spice/KPAC

Recent storms on the San Francisco Peaks have dropped nearly three feet of snow on the highest elevations. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports, local avalanche experts are urging caution to anyone who plans to recreate in the backcountry. 

According to the Kachina Peaks Avalanche Center, no slides have yet been observed this season. But avalanche zones above treeline on the north and northeast sides of the San Francisco Peaks still pose a hazard. Snowpack is relatively light and backcountry travel at high elevations is difficult.

Credit Derik Spice/KPAC
Blair Foust digs a pit to examine snow layers prior to skiing in the backcountry last February.

KPAC President Derik Spice says snow conditions are constantly evolving.

"Each storm is a different layer in a sandwich, or think of a stack of pancakes. What the factor is, do they bond together and can those lower layers support the wind loading that’s going to be happening?" he says.

Spice urges anyone who plans to travel in avalanche-prone areas on the Peaks receive the most up-to-date information through KPAC. A winter backcountry permit from the Coconino National Forest is required for the Kachina Peaks Wilderness.

Avalanches kill nearly 50 people on average each year in the U.S. and Canada. The most recent such fatality in the backcountry on the San Francisco Peaks was in 1995.

Ryan Heinsius joined the KNAU newsroom as executive producer in 2013 and was named news director and managing editor in 2024. As a reporter, he has covered a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Public Media Journalists Association Award winner, and a frequent contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and national newscast.
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