Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Slightly better than laying laminate

Today I started out with a plan to go up to one of our rentals and start the aduaous cleaning process. I had some plans to ski but they seemed to have fallen through. So I get a text from Dirk at 830 that states "How soon can you be ready" because he is already waiting at Einsteins. Yikes so I throw my stuff together and bolt. The only thing I got to check was the current temps, in the top 2 things to check, especially on days like today when the high altitude temps are reading from -3 to about 8 degrees with forcasted high winds at the ridge tops. So after a quick bagel we head out and decide on skiing Wilson via Butler. The skin up is long, and I'm already tired, but it is beautiful, like you see in calendars, blue skies, bright sun (this isn't good for those South aspects) cold snow and huge crystals on top of the snowpack that where most likely the last part of the storms 3% snow. This Crystals reflect light up into your eyes so that the snow pack looks like its covered in huge 5 carat diamonds.

(A note of caution here, you MUST wear your good, UVA, UVB blocking sunglasses here to protect your eyes from a very, very painful thing called snow blindness. I had it once, about 15 years ago and remember it vividly. Its basically a sun burn on your eyes.)

The Aspens where still covered with snow and you could clearly see the layering of dense snow on the bottom building up to light snow on the top. It creates this pyramid type shape on the branches, and you can tell by the sag that its very heavy. If you recall this is the snow from the 36 inch 'perfect storm' 48 hours before. Perfect because the method at which the temperature and density layed down the new snow starting warm (above freezing) and slowly cooling dow to create a good cohesive bond between the old temerature crust and the now dense, wet snow. Then it got really cold so all of the wet snow froze, creating a bomber bond, if you will. Using my best routefinding skills we chose the the low angle gully to the appex of the ridge before getting onto the steep snow (really I just followed the 1 day old skin track, but it sounds cooler if I say I did it). We were able to look into our planned ski area (East North East Aspect of Wilson) and kick some cornice onto the slope with little results. You could see some natural point releases in the new snow on the steeper more Easterly facing slopes, but nothing that was unexpected. The snow had settled out so the top 8 inches of rediculously low density snow had compacted to a higher (and I might say better) density from yesterday. Not measuring but I would guess it went from 3-4 to 4-5 percent on top and then gradually increased as you went down in the snow pack. At the top of Wilson after some excellent warm beverage, provided by my ski partner Dirk I put in two ski cuts at the top to try and release some wind pillows. They didn't go but I was able to send a new snow sluff down for a good 200 yards but it only took a small portion of the snow with it. After that it was up to Dirk to finish the stability testing and he did an excellent job by center punching it with many, many beatiful turns, as seen in the photos. Now you have to understand that Dirk has been nursing a wound for the last few weeks and hasn't been out skiing much this year but he complete this run with all smiles and concluded that it was a therapudic experience. Needless to say between yesterday and today I would say we are now hovering over the best snow of the season.... Anyone want to ski tomorrow?

Monday, January 26, 2009

quick and easy

So after cleaning my driveway 3 time in the last 30 hours I'm finally ready to take a break and ski. This last storm total came in at about 36 inches of right side up snow (the opposite of upsidedown). To start a quick disclaimer, I have NOT been in the backcountry for a week and I haven't been keeping up on my avalanche danger forecasts. That being said I am very supprised about Bruce's forcast today of moderate with pockets of considerable. One of the most important things, if not THE most important thing in avalanche forcasting is RATE of loading of the old snow. AGAIN I wasn't following the snowtells but my driveway would tell you that there were times when it was accumulating at upwards of 1 inch per hour, with very high densities. (almost slush, as my snowthrower was not happy about it) I would think that the sensitivity of those old hard slab sitting on facets would have skyrocketed. So I will still be weary of the conditions today, more so than I am told I should. That being said, the reason Bruce came up with the forecast is because of a few things, 1) in the deep snow area's the slab has become very large (over 90 cm) and well consolidated (due to the heat, and long time between snow). The deeper the slab, the stronger it gets. 2) the facets are starting to round out way down there and gain strength. 3)the temperature started warm and slowly cooled. Remember that thin temperature crust at almost all altitudes? Well it could have been very mean, unless you heat it up, then start covering it with snow and slowly cool it so the new snow consolidates well to it. This is exactly what happened. Another thought was those possible areas of surface hoar that could have formed during the inversion. Two things, first, it was pretty warm during that time (less likely to form), and it has been windy, rainy and warm since-- all things that destroy surface hoar. Good news for us. The question will be two fold: 1) will the large slab strenth outweigh the rapid increase in water weight? and 2)will the old large slide paths from earlier this season have a deep enough slab to have the strength to deal with the new rapid loading. (this is the more important question) So I would be trying to stay out o those old paths and especially away from the trigger zones (like rock bands, covered shrubery, anything that brings the heat up from the ground to create a small pocket of facets). Check out Bruces snow pit video at:

Saturday, January 24, 2009

A good story

So most of you are familiar with the phrase 'best snow on Earth' because its on our Utah license plates, well the question can be ask why is it the best? Well the easy way to sum it up is that we have the perfect, delectable, snow density (amount of water per volume). Why is because of a few different things. First of all we are an intermountain snow pack, that is far enough from the big water not to be a maratime yet not far enough to be a continental. Thus we are in the perfect location for 5-9% density snow that can stay in reasonably good shape over a long period without significant stability failures, or density increases. The most humorous part for me is what kind of an attitude it creates in our local ski culture (when i say ski culture I really mean backcountry touring culture, since I am not really apart of the resort culture). For example the cottonwoods average 500 inches of snow anually, more than just about any other place around, unless its close the the big ponds, then they might get more, but its much denser, and not really useful. Last season we totalled almost 700 inches of annual snow fall, check around and see if you can find that number anywhere else! Needless to say we get a lot of snow. During the last month when we had the unstable snow for so long and we where all sick of low angle love we happened to be making a trip up Mill D (I will forever confuse the letter for the Mill's) on a day with something like a 30 inch storm total. The new snow was comprised of low density 5-6% at the start of the storm followed by 8-9% on top. This creates what we call an upside down snowpack. Not the safest, but not the most dangerous either. It also makes the skiing a little more difficult. It almost gives you the illusion that the snow is so deap and so light that you just cant stay on top, even with ski's that are almost 160mm at the shovel (that would by yours truly). It happens rather often for some reason here, but usually settles out to normal feel after a few days. So we where starting up at around 1000 and ran into some guys coming out from a dawn patrol and asked them what the snow was like and one of them responded: "ah, its worth skiing." I had to crack up because only here in Utah, after a morning of untracked, 30 inches of freshies would someone comment, "ah, its worth skiing." So I've decide that is my new moto for the year. "Ah, its worth skiing." The moral of the story is, if you ski to much in Utah (like me) some day you won't just be a powder snob, but one that requires a right side up, perfect density , powder day do be anything better than 'worth skiing.' Maybe I'll get out tomorrow, I'm sure I can find something 'worth skiing.'

Rain rain, and more rain

The avalanche danger today is CONSIDERABLE today which means we should all get out and ski! Wait know, actually more avalanche fatalities happen when its CONSIDERABLE then High or Extreme because more people go out and usually take bigger risks than they should. This picture on the left is of a crown line (the point of separation from the sliding slab and the not sliding slab) from a very hard wind slab that I sent last year in the powder parks with an average slope angle of 28 degrees. Even at such a low angle and a very slow speed this particular slab went crashing into the aspens below sounding something like a D-10 bulldoser making a road.

Check out the full report on todays danger at:

I also want include a exerpt from todays post that clearly shows the point previously stated, here it is:
"While many slopes were skied, boarded and snowmobiled uneventfully yesterday, there were at least 4 backcountry incidents. In the Granny Chute of Wolverine Cirque, the 3rd ski cut popped out 6 to 12 inch deep new snow slab about 200ft wide (10,600, N facing, not caught). In a steeper section of Hide-a-way Park (the ridge between Days and Silver) a triggered pocket turned into a large sluff, carrying a skier through trees, resulting in a partial burial and injured knee (9,400, N facing). Toledo Chute was human triggered 1/2 way down, with the sluff entraining snow and widening to full width (SE 10,000'). And finally, a pocket (approx 50ft wide by 1.5 ft deep) triggered in a shallow, rocky spot on north facing Kessler resulted in a short ride."

Without looking at the weather stations I'd say you want to stay about about 8000ft due to the rain line being about 7500ft. Also with densities in the 10-15% range, its going to be pretty creamy. I'm still going to bring my fat ski's though. A great place to get a detail outlook on whats happening on the micro level with temps, snow accumulation, wind loading is as follows:
http://www.wrh.noaa.gov/slc/current/meso.slv.php if you back track a little you can find LOTS of info including snowtells, LCC/BCC forecasts and more. Everything you need to know.

These pictures represent the wrong places to ski today. Be safe! Soon I'll have some stories to add, promise.

Friday, January 23, 2009


So this is my first blog, and I guess you know your falling behind the times when you have to ask someone else in your family how to teach you to blog. So here goes... Let review the last 28 years... being that I just turned 28. It goes like this: birth, talk, walk, RIDE BIKE, go to school, SKI, school, graduate high school, go to college, ROAD BIKE, go to more college, CLIMB, finish college, CLIMB LOTS, work for 12K a year at 6 days a week and 60 hours a week, ROAD BIKE, eat a sugar beat on the side of the road, meet some of my best friends for life, MEET WIFE, move to Virgina to fly for Piedmont, RIDE BIKE, CLIMB, meet one good friend, move to Utah to work for SkyWest, or more appropriately, work for SkyWest to move to Utah, buy house.
At this point you can randomly put in SKI, RIDE BIKE, CLIMB at every location and it will be correct. Buy more houses, rent houses, start a stressful business that doesn't make money, buy another house, work at Wasatch Touring, get an FTD (flight training device instructor) position, Ski patrol for 2 years, abandon all resort skiing for the purer, more aesthetic backcountry skiing. Here we are then at age 28, summed up in 3 paragraphs. One thing you might not have noticed I didn't mention anything about learning to write, spell, grammar, or any such items, so please expect about 3rd grade skill level in all these areas. I plan on talking A LOT about the current ski season and all it entails and places to go, things NOT to do, blah blah blah...

Skiing in the backcountry is really becoming one with the snowpack. The snowpack simultaneously represents your biggest danger and your biggest joy. So intimate knowledge is key . We started out this season with snow in October that came in thinner than usual, followed by a 45 inch storm in the first of November. As I always tend to do, I dusted off the ski's and had some excellent skiing in Albion Basin. In fact I would say it was in the top 3 days of the season. The problem with skiing in the beginning is two fold: 1) usually the snowpack is really thin and you hit lots of rocks, not the case this year. 2)You have to deal with all of the uneducated resort types that can't wait to get there chair to the top. Although good at heart they usually cause more problems and danger than good. So when venturing out early in the season its advisable to somehow prepare one's monistic-self-actualisation for this uncomfortable encounters. Some people chose to bring large pummeling devices, but my choice is to skin past the first 2 slopes where the knuckle daggers, (oops I mean knuckle punchers) will never pass because they are very inefficient and out of shape. This brings you to the bliss of either skiing alone, or skiing with more competent partners. As was the case this year. I'll try and post some pics from that outing.

After that snow we where bone dry for a long time (as is the standard custom). and most of that snow melted, except on the North aspect, high elevation slopes. Exactly like last season. This old snow seems to always create lots of problems, usually developing surface hoar (frost), depth hoar, or a freeze thaw crust. If that snow stays around it will almost always represent one of your barried week layers. What was even more exciting this year is that we got some more snow after that and then it rained to almost 11000ft creating a super thin rain crust. In a NE aspect slope near Catherine's pass at around 10000ft we measured the crust at about 65cm from the ground in a 90cm snow pack with depth hour just beneath as well as near the ground. The rain crust was 2-4mm thick and you could see through it, very cool and also very dangerous. This obviously creates a nasty bed surface for future slides. later we had some serious snow loading in December which caused massive slides throughout the Wasatch that accounted for the death and serious injury of at least 2 skiers andI believe 1 snowmobiler. Again, the snowpack is our best friend and worst enemy. Because of this explosive snowpack, the backcoutry access was limited to slopes less than 35 degrees with good anchors and little or no wind loading, preferably not directly North. So everyone's favorite low angle love is of course the powder parks, sling shot, 100 turn hill, etc. The good news is that places like Bear Trap with almost the same terrain are much less crowded. That being said on the back side of little water, near dog lake, in what is normally considered a safe zone someone sent a slide off on an average slope of 28 degrees. After more careful evaluation the trigger point was much closed to the 35-38 degrees. This is one of my favorite safe zones to go--apparently not as safe as previously thought. In Bruce Tremper's book Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain he mentions one of the human factors items is terrain 'familiarity.' i.e. those places you are very familiar with you tend to take more risks. Lesson learned. Since then January has been all out week in the snow world. It's also been hot with a long inversion (inversion-when temperature rises with altitude instead of decreases). This usually causes surface hoar (window frost) to form in the fogged in areas. The good news is it has helped to warm the snow pack, causing the water to percolate down to the lower layers and increase stability in the week layers (it doesn't always work that way). I would say in most cases our slabs have become much stronger over this melt than they where before, thus it has opened up some great terrain options. During this good snow pack we have had a chance to boot the Y-coulair, and get lost in it AGAIN, Ski the Y-not Coulair which comes highly recommended from me. In fact its much better than the Y, but also more dangerous with some good technical repelling, and steep snow climbing skills required. We also skied monte-cristo, and Heart of Darkness a very famous chute that is really not very fun skiing, at least not yet this year. If you go up to ski Heart of Darkness I would recommend bringing a hammer, a drill and 2 new bolts. Right now the rap anchor is seriously sketchy. All your weight rests on a single old, bent, and now lose piton with a back up on an old, rusty 1/4 inch button head bolt, yikes! When we where their say a few days ago I was able to sling a flake and equalize it with the 1/4 inch bold but much care was required in not un-slinging the flake. I hate to say it but this could go really bad soon. The good news is that is good nylon and a good biner.

Another note about that snow was that an new thin ice crust had formed on all aspects that is very thin and easily skied through. I came to the conclusion that it was a temperature crust not a sun crust (because of the aspect). If this new snow comes in with a transition from hot to cold it should adhere well, if it comes in just cold then we have just created another week zone with poor snow bonding. The other one we will have to be thinking about is the surface hoar from the inversion that I would guess has formed only at the highest points, north aspects, and the smog layers down at around 7800ft all aspects. Ok, yikes that has got to be my longest post I'll ever do... got to sleep.