Mapping starting zone snow depth with a ground-based LiDAR to improve avalanche control and forecasting

Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 8:00 AM
Jeffrey S Deems1, Peter J Gadomski2, Dominic Vellone3, Ryan Evanczyk3, Adam L LeWinter4, Karl Birkeland5 and David C Finnegan6, (1)University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, United States, (2)US Army Corps of Engineers Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory, Hanover, NH, United States, (3)Arapahoe Basin Ski Patrol, Dillon, CO, United States, (4)Univ Northern Colorado, Denver, CO, United States, (5)US Forest Service, Bozeman, MT, United States, (6)U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory, Hanover, NH, United States
The varying distribution of snow depth in avalanche starting zones exerts a strong influence on avalanche potential and character. Extreme depth changes over short distances are common, especially in wind-affected, above-treeline environments. Snow depth also affects the ease of avalanche triggering. Experience shows that avalanche reduction efforts are often more successful when targeting shallow trigger point areas near deeper slabs with explosives or ski cutting. Our pilot study explores the use of high resolution snow depth and depth change maps from differential LiDAR scans to quantify loading patterns for use in both pre-control planning and in post-control assessment.

We present results from our initial work at the Arapahoe Basin Ski Area in Colorado, USA. A-Basin has a large number avalanche starting zones above treeline at elevations up to 4,000 m. The three study areas represent a range of institutional avalanche management history – the East Wall has been operated since 1970, Montezuma Bowl since 2008, and the Steep Gullies are under study for area expansion. Summer mapping produced a zero depth surface. Mapping multiple times during the snow season allowed us to produce time series maps of snow depth and snow depth change at high resolution to explore depth and slab thickness variations due to wind redistribution. We conducted surveys before and after loading events and control work, allowing the exploration of loading patterns, slab thickness, shot and ski cut locations, bed surfaces, entrainment, and avalanche characteristics. We also evaluate the state of terrestrial laser scanning for use in operational settings.