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.