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2/15/12 Carnival De EV

EVI note: Info is still coming in from yesterday, so the post has changed some, trying hard to report all objective info, sorry for any confusion and thanks to those helping us clarify the events.

Bluebird powder day in EV. Overnight storm loaded up the zone with a significant amount of snow, variable amounts, knee-deep and above in certain places. BID(Blown in Deep) is the technical term. Headed off the grid for the first run with Luke and stayed clear of the procession headed up to Benchie. A ton of hungry pow hounds were out early and the carnival was on.

Morning in EV

Came back around to the top for our second run to see how the combination of the rapidly warming deep fresh snow and the mass of skiers interacted. They didn’t play well together. West Wall slid, skier triggered from the skier’s right side almost wall to wall , below the first set of small rocks that line the top. Had a friend see it go down. A skier skiing a ribbon of blower powder before a large avalanche followed him down,  a sympathetic release from a small slab the skier  kicked off during his run.  I can’t make this stuff up. New warming snow interface on the crust that happens in the West Wall with the east facing sun hit and warm temps probably was the culprit.  Find out tommorow.
Tracks in left side of Benchmark, but debris running past the first  flats from the gully left of Mushroom Rock. Another sign of skier triggered instability.
Tele Line had tracks but no activity that I could see.
The capper was Old Man’s. Looked over the edge of the entrance to see a track leading into the each of the first two gullies left of the tree line. Below, a significant debris pile ran beneath them into the flats and no obvious tracks out. Shit.
Headed down right ridgeline and found where we could safely enter and do a search of a majority of the lower debris pile. Probably happened first thing in the morning, but wanted to make sure we didn’t leave someone out there before we headed out.  Cleared the debris with Luke and thankfully found no signals. Then we got the hell out of there.
The crown was deepest on the skier’s left side of the second rollover gully by the small cliff, three to four feet of soft slab. It extended into the middle of the bowl. CDC had a small slab release of its’ own under the cliff band.
As far as I know nobody was hurt today, but the potential was there. Here’s what we saw.

Old Man's

Old Man's Crown

Benchie Run

West Wall

West Wall

Submitted Photo Old Man's from a Distance

EVI, Be My Valentine…

What better a day to grab that powder loving guy or gal and take them out to EV to get the love juices flowing?  The overcast to broken skies with S-1 light snowfall and blending from light to calm winds ((L) 1-16 mph) didn’t deter the most discerning of inamorata/inamorato from blazing up the skin track to the top of Benchie and dropping in to profess their passion for the goods with some fine pow turns and  periodic wails of pleasure and ecstasy.  On the “Danger Rose” (oooh that’s sexy) one could profess that the “dangerous love” was at least considerable on the NW-S facing aspects…  Those not blinded by the considerable chance at some likely “rough lovin” could get their moderately risky business done on the W & SW facing slopes.  Tracks abound and no shame (recent debaucherous activity) in sight… the powder lovers were painting their affection all over the big white fluffy canvass with big S-Turns abound.  Only a few dysfunctional examples of tracks seen hitting the top drops off Old Man’s, traversing skier left over the first cliffs in Old’s then directly over to the northern cliffs two-thirds the way down the open +35 degree avg. aspect, the prominent CDC cliff band. Not sure that relationship is really going to last, but one could conjecture that love makes some behave in some very incredibly peculiar ways.

Linked up with Marty, the legendary wing-man himself, to not only get our powder fix of the day, but to also put a cross hair on our beloved snowpack and shoot it straight in the heart.  We sought to identify a deadly problem that has been plaguing some unfortunate riders recently.  We’ve all seen the recent reports of the very gruesome reciprocation that the star-crossed snowpack has taken out on members of the BC riding community.  The trend of doom has been below treeline in some very precarious terrain traps and that is where some more careful examination is due.  From the “hasty” and not so hasty test pits of the season, it’s about lovin time we drop some SWAG on this very problem.  Freshly and stalely outfitted with the latest in snow-nerd standards, we figured it’s about time to throw down and get neck deep in the business.  What is the problem that we are dealing with?  In short, deep persistent weak layers releasing the majority of the top of the snow pack on an interface between the buried depth hoar and the upper “cake” layer of the good stuff.  So let the intricate romance with our naughty snowpack begin…  (this would be way more bad-ass with snowpilot, but whatever).

2/14/2012 @ 2:30pm on Forgotten Trees with an elev. 10,200-10,400 (estimated from topo).

Small clearing in trees on N-facing Aspect below treeline of 30 degrees. 

Sky:  Fluctuating from broken to overcast.  Wind:  Calm to Light.  Temp Air:  -6.5 deg C.  Precip:  Very Light (S-1).

Boot Pen:  Balls Deep, Yeah, that’s what she said…  Type:  Profile Pit.  Temp Surface @ 150cm:  -6.5 deg. C

No Red Flags besides the low-moderate obvious wind loading of leeward aspects.

<150    DF’s    (decomp & frag. precip particles)  1.5mm          F+              -6.5 deg. C       
140    DF’s    (decomposing & frag. precip part.)  1.5mm          F+              -6.0 deg. C
130    DF’s    (decomposing & frag. precip part.)  1.5mm          F                 -6.0 deg. C 
120    FCsf    (near surface faceted particles)      1-2mm          F                -5.5 deg. C
110    FCxr    (Rounding Faceted Particles)         1.0mm          F                 -5.0 deg. C
100    RG’s    (Rounded Grains)                               0.5-1.0mm   F                 -4.5 deg. C
90    RG’s      (Rounded Grains)                               1.0mm          <95cm 4F  -4.0 deg. C 
80    RG’s      (Rounded Grains)                               1.0mm          4F               -3.5 deg. C
70    RG’s      (Rounded Grains)                                1.0mm         4F                -3.0 deg. C
60    DH        (Depth Hoar)                                         3.0mm         <60cm F+   -2.5 deg. C
50    DH        (Depth Hoar)                                          3.0mm          F+                -2.0 deg. C
40    DH        (Depth Hoar)                                          3.0mm          F+                -2.0 deg. C
30    DH        (Depth Hoar)                                          3.0mm          F+                -1.5 deg. C
20    DH        (Depth Hoar)                                          3.0mm          F+                -1.0 deg. C
10    DH        (Depth Hoar)                                          3.0mm          F+                -1.0 deg. C 

0     Ground

Did a very nice ECT (Extended Column Test) 30cm deep X 90cm wide X to 120cm deep from surface, back cut out.

Results yielded:  ECT23Q3(PC)… the whole 150cm down to 60cm collapsed on the interface (if you can remember the December surface hoar produced by endless clear days and cold clear nights) ~60-63cm is where the ECT collapsed but did not shear.  This indicated a collapse and even propagation, but no sudden planar or resistant planar shear @ 30 deg.  So that would put us at ECTP23.    Read from that what you will… in leymans’ that’s a deep persistent weak layer that will propagate distances, collapse and cause instability in the snowpack, hence, most aspects on the CAIC Rose being rated as considerable.  Watch out for higher angle slopes that will cause the upper layer to collapse as well as shear and slide. 

That’s all the snow-geek and SWAGger I got for ya!  hopefully you were suave and savvy enough to get your significant other’s adrenaline and love potion pumping with you’re superior shredability out in EV today.  If you didn’t here’s some snow porn to help you thru tomorrow…   but remember, never trust a hoar, no matter how deep you bury it (Whammy!).

2/12/12 5 Second Rule/ Trip Report

Headed up to see the after effects of a big Saturday.  Like heading into a trashed frat house after the cops come, the area was deserted and littered(with tracks, not Old Style beer cans) .  Fully expecting to see some slide remnants in the bowls, but the reports of a slide in Benchie were just spray.  Forty or so tracks in plain view. Plenty of snow testers exploring all aspects.  Maybe a small fracture on skiers’ left side of Benchie, but nothing real significant and hard to tell as the area was laced with tracks on top of the possible remnants.

Greybird day and temperatures finally cooling off with the incoming front.  No recent movement in Old Man’s, the right side stamped with tracks and a few poking into the first gully skier’s left of shrubbercross alley.

Took full advantage of the stability and headed left middle gully for the first time all year. One might even call it a, gasp, SKI CUT!!! Just kidding, can’t help myself.  The snow was settled and surfy, no movement at all the run. Still some reef in the roll over gullies, but finally getting covered.

Some advice. 5 second rule. If you are going to delve into the middle of any  open areas, you need to be able to ski your line all at once, with speed, without stopping on the cliff bands. Otherwise don’t bother.  CMHing through these areas will get you pounded.

Headed out to the ridge and saw two small(30 ft wide) slab pockets had ripped on the lower skier’s right side of the West Wall. These were small shallow areas with no propagation or run distance (50 ft), an effect of the recent new snow on the sun baked east facing West Wall giving way.

Found good snow in the Forgotten Trees, shaded north facing, it provided good knee-deep pow skiing.  Hit the lower cliff band in the trees and fractured a 20 foot circle of snow.  Just collapsed, didn’t run but stopped me dead in my tracks.  Time to look around and enjoy the solitude of the moment and the light snow starting to fall in the trees.

Found an undisturbed tree pocket next door to my landing to do a quick CT test and snow profile.  38 degrees, north facing, untouched.  Perfect.  Again not too much difference in the snow profile from other recent pits. 10 cms of fresh snow   of  55 cms of slighlty denser old storm snow.  At the bottom the less than fist density 3 mm facets still there to the ground.

105 cms total depth, -3 C air temp, -1C snow surface temp.  CT column results were a little different from a couple of days ago.

CT-2  Q1 at 95 cms.  Old snow/new snow interface, just the top fluff.

CT-17 Q3 at 35 cms.  Again within the 3mm facets, but ragged and uneven.

Only did a single column, so no back up for the results. Just lots and lots of tracks. Lots.

2/9/10-2/10 Chance of Snow

Chance of snow. Finally.  No hundred percent chance of sixteen inches that leaves us like a jilted bride at the altar.  Chance, that’s all we ask here in the Vail valley. My favorite forecast.

Currently snowing here, and Thursday/ Friday provided the best EV skiing of the year, but with different stability indications.  Yesterday, stomping the edge of the yet to be formed cornice of Old Man’s with skis sent the 60-80cm of wind load to the egde of the frying pan with an easy shear, but did not propagate or step down in the rollover gulley past the first flats. (This measurement is rough and only is at the very top of the run at the start of the rollover where the cornice usually forms.)

Friday, at the same place, with  renewed wind load even deeper, around 80 cm, the same test produced no shear and moderate cracking that didn’t fully break. Soft slab blocks stood perched on edge, but refused to drop and run.

Thursday

Skiing was excellent both days, the snow on Friday was thicker and sprayed like spoonfuls of mashed potatoes on each turn as we got into the midddle of the bowl. The snow stayed knee-deep and fresh all the way through. Watched a group of four ski left Benchie with no results. The tracks in West Wall, Tele Line, Benchie produces no slides that I could see.  Didn’t have much movement on my run and only minor sluffing running the right middle concave gully.  The following four tracks had only minor surface pockets moving a very short distance.  The upper part of the pack seems to be stronger than it was a week ago,  Definitely interesting to see the change in 24 hours with the same rudimentary test in the same place.

Super big Saturday with the Teva games in town and the mountaineering race ends up at Benchie.  Will racers and EV skiers be battling for the same skin track?   Much pressure this weekend and hope the seeming increasing stability is for real.

Also, check out this TGR blog if you haven’t already.

http://www.tetongravity.com/blogs/So-Far2011%E2%80%9912-Ski-Season-Marked-By-Avalanches-In-The-West-5761839.htm

2/8/12 Meadow Mountain/ EV Trip Reports

Took advantage of the perfect weather to do a midnight skin up meadow mountain under the full moon on Tuesday with Luke and Paulie and dog.  First group gathering gearing up for the AK world as it is now a countdown in days towards the end of the season. Surreal snow world cast in a  ghostly bone white light, the trees and skin trail glowed brightly under the moon. We worked our way upward through the meadows and aspens while snow machines rallied around us, transferring partygoers from the trailhead to the cabin for a full moon party.

After a couple of hours we arrived at the cabin, drawn into the cabin by firelight and laughter.   We arrived and were greeted warmly by the Mushroom people, speaking in tongues and smiling, They welcomed us to their fire with clicks and whistles and we obliged them. The light from Minturn and Vail were visible and the Gore range rose up in authority, bathed in blacklight.

The ski down was low angle and variable, pockets of stale powder, interrupted by frozen track chatter.  Dog decided that snow machines were more fun and took off on us. Luke got a second lap around midnight back to the top by snow machine and a bonus ski down with the wayward mutt.

Headed out to EV on Wednesday afternoon in rising westerly wind and lowering, thickening grey clouds.   Haven’t been back in some days, so again interested in what has transpired since last week.  Hit the poma and was warned by an older guy passing by on the catwalk about the danger in the West Vail Chutes.

Top of the world and  I saw tracks  beaten in the usual places.  Much of Benchmark is unrecognizable from last year and unskiable due to low snow, so the skier’s left side is hammered.  Right side of West Wall, Tweeners and Tele Line all had tracks.  No recent slide activity that I could see.

First time able to ski left past the initial cliff band and into the right center of Old Man’s. The upper scarp is still rock hard,  Supportive dense wind buffed pow skied o.k and the roll over areas through the two cliff/reef areas held fast.  About a dozen tracks littered the skier’s right side middle of the bowl, while the CDC area remains unskied.  The bottom of Old’s had covered mounds of old debris.

First time cutting over to the MVP area from Old Man’s, wanting to see how the Forgotten Trees were skiing.  Upper turns in the trees were more stale cake but fresh, as most of the other tracks headed straight.  Came upon the first cliff band and side-stepped off a three-foot ledge onto a briefly steep(40 degree) open tree pocket after the rocks.  Sunk to the ground and fractured a small area under the rocks that disintegrated  like sand.

Took the opportunity of standing on terra firma and looking at a small but distinct fracture line to take a look at the snow. Not much change 2-3 m facets less than fist density, topped by slightly denser old and new storm snow.  Any column cut still can’t stand on its own and fractures Q3 within the facets.  No real surprise in stability.  Still around 110 cms.

Ended up skiing 30 ft wide refilled bed surface pockets in the trees to get to the exit.  Traversed out onto thin and crusty east face and onto the track out to the bus. Thin fast and littered with stumps and bushes, it is not fun. Biggest March ever.

Friday / Saturday Observation

The trip to EV on Friday was an interesting one. Without a doubt best pow turns of my season, however it was also the most high stake avi danger day as well. Had multiple signs of weak snow pack, wind, numerous whoomfs, cracks, and even triggered a few small slides on both open faces and trees north-through-east. The aspect skiers right of our line had slid rather large and rather disturbingly as it is a line I have skied weekly in past seasons. Martineast recapped the day well here and I only regret not having a camera to take some shots.

In an effort to feed the need Saturday, I went out all geared up for another EV lap, keeping in mind I would most likely be turning back and skiing in-bounds with a fully loaded pack. After some quality lift chair time I reached the top of Sourdough and decided I’d keep my self busy with some beacon training and to check the snow to see if the drop in temperature had improved the snow pack.

After beacon basin, I searched to find areas which represented the terrain I had been skiing yesterday and just as I had expected, the snow was still rotten — super rotten.  Below are pics from a “hasty pit” I dug in a north-east facing tree’d area similar to the terrain and aspect where I had encountered the most activity two days prior.

Looking at the photos, you do not need to be a snow scientist to understand what is causing the high risk conditions in our surrounding area. Keep in mind, this photo was taken on a treed northeastern slope, the same aspect as many tree lines in EV.

The photo above with the shovel clearly illustrates the newly fallen snow on a super consolidated layer created by warm temps and wind supported by an extremely faceted snow layer. After digging and looking at the snow I was convinced to turn around.

With the newly fallen snow Saturday night / Sunday morning, it will be hard to resist heading out for some fresh turns. The already crazy high avalanche danger persists.  This pit shows that even in the trees and in areas we may think are safe, we aren’t.  Stay inside the ropes for now…

1/20/12 Tele Line Revisit

Crazy swings in temperature last few days. 13 below to 40 above in a couple of days with a rain snow mix  yesterday in town. Switched to snow to the valley floor sometime Thursday night and woke to two inches on my deck with warm temperatures again.
Went with my buddy Paulie out to Tele Line where we had skied the last storms’ snow on supportable crust, bypassing anything steep(30+ degrees)and north facing again. The constant weather factor for the last few days has been the jet stream wind, up again and howling on the ridges out of the northwest. Same deal today as the next front intensified around 12:30 and started dumping a heavy wet, Pac-Northwest style snow. Nice storm skin as the only two other travelers were ahead of us and  disappeared into the white out above the poma.
Hitting the point, the winds were calm again as on Wednesday, and the east-facing run was slathered in twenty cms of dense new snow up top. Did a quick hasty pit, similar shallow pack as Wednesday with the new snow supported by the crust underneath. I went first, skiied through the initial rock pillows and ditched it the trees early and waited for Paulie. No activity. Paulie dropped and met me in a cluster of dense old growth.    The upper section skied well and the dense snow was nice supportive powder turns of the year. Bliss.
As we entered the middle section, things changed dramatically. We leapfrogged down to the traverse out, staying next to the ridgeline. Paulie let me know he was triggering whoomphing and propagating cracks in areas that I had skied. The thirty pound differential between us was enough to make the difference and allow him to punch through the saturated crust and trigger failure. We regrouped and went farther into the old stands. Entering lower elevations and into the rain/snow mix layer from the night before, the dense new snow wasn’t adhering to the increasingly saturated melt freeze crust. Bottom line the lower we got, the higher the avalanche danger became. We were able to traverse out in cracking boot top on ground dense snow to the aspens.  If we get the snow predicted on Saturday and the pack on the Benchie traverse out becomes deep enough to slide, the traverse out  could be treatcherous.The aspens down low were extremely sensitive, and shooting cracks and small slab collapses were all over, even worse than the cracking on Wednesday. Again Paulie, being a beast, was triggering areas I didn’t all the way to the bus.
Snow Pack Discussion.
After Paulie triggered the whoomphing and cracking in the middle elevations of Tele Line, we staged at some trees and I crept out and dug a hasty pit. (Yep it’s a bona fide real pit with NO SAW, it actually has a place in the world of snow science.) On the go assessment. A lot going on in the 60cm snowpack. Bottom 20 cms, 3 mm loose facets. Next, a five mm melt-freeze crust, pencil hard. Following this, fifteen cms of smaller loose facets, 2 mm. On top of this, another four to five mm melt-freeze crust again, finger hard, increasingly saturated as elevations lowered. Topping the cake was the 20-25 dense wet snow in the spot I was at, a sheltered spot, east facing around the middle of the line. (the depth of new snow varied drastically in different aspects and elevations. We were on a eastern aspect, with a good view of north east.) All propagating fractures were easily Q1 shears, but didn’t run any distance.
Paulie was collapsing the crust from mid elevations down and the storm snow was running on the collapsed crust on loose facets below. Danger was even higher today, than it has been in the last few days, especially in lower elevations N-E aspects. Didn’t get to test any W aspects at any elevation recently, but I assume similar types of results. We saw evidence of slab releases in NE aspects at 9500 ft and below. Temps have cooled off since the storm moved through and have skies cleared. Hopefully this will lock up some of the moisture and settle things, but this is just spray(a new phrase I learned today).
Concerned about Saturday, weekend crowds and the lure of pow will have intrepid souls venturing back there in very high danger. Hope all goes well, please let us know if you are out and see anything. Be safe. EVI

1/18/12 Trip Report from Colby D. and Crew Snow Pit Study Equals No Go

Wanted to share this trip report from reader Colby D.:

On our way out we stopped at the BCA park n did some practice digs. We saw Paul there and said he made it out to East Vail earlier but decided to come back (red flag 1). Decided to go anyway. Once we started to go through the windloaded areas I jumped off the track to give it a feel. I felt the snow dropping with every step and in my tracks you could see almost 2 inch air pockets on both sides (red flag 2). So we quick dug a pit. Again I am not a pro and didn’t have a saw so it was a janky pit but it had all the signs saying don’t go. the top footish in the first pit didn’t even hold up and make it to a compression test, second one did but fractured on the first hit from the wrist. that alone was enough to convince us not to go but then we noticed bellow where we had stepped of our splits there were fracture marks to (red flag 3). This on top of the fact there had been slide action in the area, we hit a few fun turns through mushy trees where the snow was heavy but had no problems.

 Had a single binocular which was super cool to look at the snow crystals with

you can see the soft sugar snow under the hard layer half way up then the top is windloaded, also some punch tests

First column attempt, we didn’t have a saw so we cut it as clean as we could but it fractured before even the first set of compression tests.

 Since we decided against east vail yesterday from the top we decided to hike a run we do fairly often with the dogs. I think people refer to it as half chute. regardless we were gonna hike up through the woods as we have an established boot pack and you’re never in any high risk areas. It was a rugged hike and it seemed wicked warm today. the snow was super sticky and heavy. Once we got to the top the snow had gotten lighter so we decided to dig around and check the snow out. We had already broken the top zone into mellow sluff slides in the trees on two prior occasions so we were wondering if it was much different than the area we dug yesterday.

 the pups loving the deep snow

As we started clearing out the area there was a small fracture.

I increased the contrast on this shot and you can easily see the different layers, harder on top, softer underneath. Shitty but we came to this area because there is little consequence with the crappy pack.

Kinda tough to tell what;s going on here but the bottom block slide of the sugar pile above it on the 7th wrist compression. Further proving the consequential areas of east vail could leave you having a real bad day.

 Brian and Goomba getting read to drop. The snow was super heavy, but it was fun and a good workout.

Thanks to Colby and his crew for the report and pics.  We appreciate it andalways welcome outside content and comments-EVI

1/18/12 EV Thursday Where’s the Snow? High Avi Danger Continues

Big storm was supposedly headed our way.  The jet is on us and it looked promising for last night.  The blob NOAA showed us coming in from the Northwest made giddy as a schoolgirl.  Huge and dipping below AK towards us, finally in a more west to east pattern.  Bring it. I went to bed with powder dreams dancing in my head.

Woke up to another swing and a miss, somehow it went from 1000 percent chance of snow and a blizzard warning to really nothing. All bark no bite. A reoccurring theme this year, not sure how NOAA got it so wrong.  Again.  Now Saturday looks better, but, but honestly I give up on getting excited for storms that NOAA  predicts for us this year.

Wednesday saw the temperatures and humidity rise with the incoming front.  The recent new snow  down lower in the aspens by our second run had begun to settle and were cracking, although not propagating more than a few feet as we plowed through it.  A great indicator that even at lower elevations in the trees, the possibility of avalanching is on the rise.  Rapid change in any piece of the avalanche puzzle weather, wind, temperature is always a warning sign for increasing avalanche danger.

Cracks in the Trees

Winds are still up, and the loading continues.  21 is open today, so the skin out won’t be as long.  Two yesterday and my legs are feeling it.  Might be taking the day off and writing hate mail to NOAA.  Be careful out there, anything in the North facing, wind loaded aspects that haven’t ripped have a good chance of going at all elevations.  Really a strange year so far to say the least.

1/18/12 Trip Report: Tele Line

Day off from Troy’s today and I was eager to get back out to EV to see what the ten inches and jet stream winds had done to the north facing aspects of East Vail.  I definitely was concerned and I had a feeling that Avi rating was easily considerable as CAIC had reported, and probably more like high danger specifically in EV due to what had been occurring weather/wind wise over the last two days.  If I was heading out I was going to make damn sure I was  in good company.  I was. I met up with our snow science and event coordinator Luke, along with Haines heli guide extraordinaire Will at the Visti.  Solid.

Spooky day all around.  The constant sound of the bombs tossed by Vail Ski patrol resonated over the howling ridge top winds. The bruised, purple grey clouds thickened and lowered all day over the scoured moonscape of the Gore.  Small tendrils of snow touched the tops of the peaks, but nothing from the predicted blizzard yet.

Geared up at Two Elk and we were off.  The skin up to chair twenty-one was spent catching up with Will, hadn’t skied with him since Valdez. Luke and I skinned listening to stories of Haines spines, helicopters, film crews and Oakland Raiders Cheerleaders that were so over the top they had to be true.(Check out This is My Year to see what Will, Xavier De La Rue and crew and SEABA have been up to)  Our storm day was rolling along.  The high winds had transformed the rippling ridge lines and angular faces of the Gore Range into a peppery black, brown and white moonscape as all the storm snow that wasn”t locked down was now in Kansas.

Up behind chair twenty-one, we get our first indicator of how things are gonna be .  Patrol holds us up at the backside of the lift. Blasting over in Red Square,  Wayne the patroller says, fifteen minute wait.  No problem, EVI has nothing but total respect for patrol, so we hung out.

I turned to check out the area behind the lift that drops into Mushroom Bowl a saw a good size slide had ripped out with Patrol’s two pound bomb.  Another patroller and a Vail photographer were perched on top a hanging block checking it out. 150 ft wide, two to three feet deep winds slab failing on the old snow/new snow interface, a knife hard, wind scoured crust.  It ran over the roll and into the trees.  Same place behind the path to China Wall that ripped a week ago.  It’s a great test slope as the 3o plus westerly winds  load it fiercely. Luke Will and I took notice and headed out as soon as they let us.   Wind loading was, no doubt,  going to be a factor on our route decision.

Behind Orient Express

Top of the World and we started poking around.  Small cracking as Will checked out skier’s left off the top, left side of Abe’s.  Punchy thigh deep on the windward, north facing Benchmark side.  On the ridge top and the lee side of the ridge, it was scoured and bushes and rocks poking through, by far the thinnest I’ve ever seen EV on the Top of the World in January.  We all took a look over the ridge,  assessed  it, then we talked about it.  We decided we didn’t want to mess with the loading in the left side of Abe’s, even though other tracks were already in the far skier’s left trees of the run.  We all felt pretty sure it was going to rip, probably at the first rollover that steepened to 35 degrees and had the punchy wind slab(80 plus cms)There are small shelf cliffs that make a great trigger points off the top and this area releases often after storms.

The decision was made to go ski the more sheltered and lower angle East facing run off Joint Point,  the Tele Line. The snow pack was going to be shallower over there due to the East facing sunhit and lack of windload.  It was coated and blank and looked like a better option.

Scooted down the ridge to the corner at Joint point.  Dug a hasty pit. The snow pack was weak of course, but very shallow, 30 cms and had new snow over a condensed crust over 2 mm facets. Better than off the top of Benchmark.  Pulled out the handle of Little Pepe, and offered the drop to Will.    Skipping over the stepdown, snow coated rocks, Will took off down the left side. The snow held with variable boot top to knee fresh on a thin pack.  Luke dropped next, me last.  Regrouped and leapfrogged down the pitch.  Powder??? Dense, wind affected but yes, it counts. Finally, after all this wait. Thank you baby Jesus( I had to work the ten inch day morning).

Made our way down through soft snow on tops of the dead grasses to the aspen cut over, ignoring the now familiar sound of rock grinding edge (my route involved twenty-five yards of ski hiking a new sport)  and picked our way to the bus.  The out is still a pain in the ass.  Nice trip and at the bus we all agreed that we made the best of what was available and headed in to town,  John pulling up at the moment we stepped out of our skis.

Second round I met up with Tom and Stew from Snowell at the Poma shack and with the first run info we all decided to roll back to Tele Line.  Had gotten a text on the Visti from J that his group (just after us in the morning) had skied left side Benchmark(Abrahams’) and had ripped out a quarter of the bowl while poking around on the edge. It broke below them and no one was caught. Eager to see the aftermath,  I hustled ahead to the TOTW and rolled over the edge to see a 100 ft wide eighteen inch to two foot crown starting from the ridge over the Mushroom Rock area, stepping down. It rolled past the flats and through the second cliff band, to the next flats.  Again the interface betweenpencil/ knife hard scoured scarp covered with the recent windslab was the culprit, triggered by the weight of a skier at the cliffs.  HS-AS-R2-D2-I (look it up on Google).

Benchmark slide photo (courtesy of Tom Birmingham)

Checking It Out

Second Tele line was just as good as the first. Both Tom and Stew seemed glad to get the first run monkey off their backs for the season.  Again the East face held the snow and no activity and blissfully out of the wind.  Thanks to them for letting me tag along with their group and for the pictures.

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