Tree-ring analysis can be a reliable method of determining past snow avalanche events when good historical records are lacking. Characteristic features in the tree-ring record indicative of disturbance include: (1) the occurrence of reaction wood, (2) abrupt changes in growth rate, (3) age of scars caused by avalanche impact, (4) age of trees in reforested tracks, and (5) examination of a “new leader.”
This study was conducted at the town of Ophir, a small community in southwestern Colorado with a severe snow avalanche hazard. Historical records indicate that snow avalanches reached the town, or its vicinity, four times during this century (1918, 1951, 1958, and 1959). Tree-ring analysis substantiated this record in part and produced evidence of at least one additional event (middle to late 1880s). From this combined information, the recurrence interval for major snow avalanches capable of endangering the town is thought to be at least as frequent as once in 20 yr. The limitations of tree-ring analysis encountered in this study are also discussed.