As I did a couple 360’s last night coming down West Vail after my brakes failed, I had a few seconds to ponder the temporary nature of things. Things are most clear and vivid when the future of our own existence is not certain. Luckily no one was hurt, and what do you do when shit happens? Get up and keep going.
There is increasing avalanche danger in East Vail as the biggest cycle of the year so far continues. High W SW winds and heavy snow will crossload our usual suspects and create the possibility of rider triggered avalanches. Again wind slabs on top of a weak base layer is the concern.
Excitement over the epic snow conditions is tempered with the events of this week. A big snow weekend will bring the travelers out, and we will be waiting to see the results.
EV always demands respect, but during cycles like this extra caution is advised. Runs like Water Tower that are most frequently utilized during storm cycles are able to slide, even into the old growth trees. Step out into the open over the next couple days and I would expect reactivity at least in the new storm snow. Of special concern is Benchie. Like Olds, parts of Benchie have run, but not all together and not to the bottom of the base layer of the snow pack. Head on a swivel if you plan to venture out.
Buddy passed along some info from his run today. Mentioned 22-24 inches of new with what he described as “moderate” reactivity of the new snow, increasing with another night of wind transport. The x factor is if it goes blue bird. That definitely brings the people out and seems to entice folks to step out a little farther. This week the death of Tony Siebert is fresh on everyone’s mind and the effect of that I think will limit traffic. However EV skiers will continue to ski EV,the beat will continue to go on and slowly the traffic will build again.
There are two lines in EV that aren’t in my playlist anymore. First is King Tut’s, the second is CDC. Watching my friend get strained in the through the top trees and seeing the entire bowl run top to bottom under 3 seconds in 2002 tempered my enthusiasm for the area and shattered my youthful notion that I could out run a such a slide. Hourglass convex cross loaded entrance with few safe areas in the open parts make it a consequential run under the best conditions. The sleeper rock on skiers right provides a thin spot in the slab and a sensitive trigger point. Can it be skied safely? Sure, under the right conditions. Many folks like the run for its length and cliffs. It can be an epic run.
I hope to get out tomorrow and get some more detailed pit info as I’m interested in what is going on. As always, leaving the possibility open of not skiing EV,of turning around. The lesson of turning around is the hardest to learn for a pow addict like me. After my own mistakes and lessons learned, it is easier now to do that than ever. For me it was the hardest one to learn. Stay safe out there.
While half the crew enjoyed a second season in AK, the rest of us watched the snow melt as the mountain closed lift by lift, and ultimately, shut down last week for the 2012 season. Good riddance. For the past two months, I had been looking more forward to the sounds of sitars and Thievery Corp than the skiing. Armada Bubbas looking sad and lonely in the corner, maybe next year, friends.
The little bit of last second snow was almost a cruel joke, just covering up fallen trees and dirt patches long enough to get a couple final runs in. And honestly, the first few hours of closing day were some of the best of the year, as sad as that sounds. Why I’m even writing about a 7 inch powder day, I don’t know…other than to summarize the bookend season we had. If last year was the best of times, this was surely the worst of times. Seeing what EV could be on both ends of the precipitation scale told a tale of two seasons.
If anything, a good year to test your snow science skills. If you had none, it was a good year to get some. Silverton Avy School, et al. earned their keep this year, with plenty of examples to show would be snow gurus. EV dictated same, with what seemed like a slide a day. Fortunately, only a few serious injuries in Mushie and no deaths in EV. The rest of Colorado and the ski world as a whole wasn’t as lucky. A constant reminder in skiing, where the crossroads of freewill and inherent risk intersect.
Waxing philosophic aside, a pile of bones was about all that was left to poke at here in Vail. Full on summer now, so enjoy the off season. Get strong, train, ride your bike, go hike, get on the river, get swole, get ready for what will hopefully be a better season next year. If not there’s always the great white North. AK on the mind…see you next year.
A little update from the North on EVI’s inaugural trip to Alaska.
Letting the boys sleep in today after a bluebird windless stretch like I’ve never seen up here. We were up at 4500 feet yesterday and not a breath of wind. Unreal. Snowed 20 to 100 cms depending on the aspect and elevation last Friday and Saturday, since then its’s been game on!. Tailgate AK, a lovable junkshow, has wrapped up and the ABA parking lot is ours.
Spent our time getting to know both sides of the pass after getting through an avi cycle the day after the storm. Luke set of a SS-AS-R5-D3-I on the Berlin shoulder. Everybody’s OK, but a sobering reminder to watch your ass at all times up here. Since then the conditions are stable and good. Things heal up very quickly here in the maritime world. The north aspects are filled with Valdez cream cheese, wind buffed supportive powder that hardly sluffs at all on our 40 to 50 degree runs. We’ve been using sled bumps to get to our zones, after that we’ve been climbing and skinning. It’s different and very enjoyable to tour in a place that is a skier’s paradise and overwhelmingly beautiful, filled with a lifetime or two of accessible runs.
Berlin Wall, Berlin Shoulder, Giovanni’s, Aucopolco, Girl’s, Python Wall and today when the boys wake up a bump and hike to ski the mighty Python. Our cost? A little sweat equity and 180 bucks. Not a bad deal.
Will jump into the heli for a day or to and if it stays the same conditions try to get onto some big stuff. Meteorite, Tusk, Pontoon, Kiwi’s are all things availible.
Matt and Luke have been awesome and our group dynamic is better than I could hope for. Solving problems on snow, getting around hazards and learning the game, they both have excelled. We have a ton of pics and video. We will put them up when we aren’t skiing. Simply put it’s been incredible.
I stand on top of the Top of The world and stare in awe at what I see. A mid-May landscape of brown and white stares right back. Barren Vail pass and a rapidly melting east vail are an indicator of just how off this season has been in terms of snow. Nothing to do now but hike and train, ski EVs to get ready for the big game. Nice also to get away from the spring break madness that has taken over the mountain. Good Lord it’s dangerous out there and I’ll take my chances with the backcountry any day.
Thought about my options and realized that with the consistent temps and sun hit, the west wall’s demise was near completion. Probably would be my last chance to rescue my AK JJ that I sacrificed last week during a moment of huberis. A few more days of the above 40 temps and sun would render the isothermic snowpack completely unsupportive and the West Wall starts ripping to the ground, entombing my ski in wet slide debris until late spring. The run to the ground scenario is something reserved usually for late April or May in a typical EV season. This year, March 13? Why not?
Rescue mission time. The only access it was to ski the run I had last time. There was no option to cut over from skier’s right West wall and be high enough to get the ski. Plus, undercutting that entire area to get across wasn’t an option.
Skied to the entrance of the Corner Pocket and thought about my last run, eating it, getting hit and losing a ski in the process. Shut my eyes for a second, deep breath and I push off onto March corn. I ski the upper, sparsely spaced old growth trees without incident.
Coming to the choke, the place where I failed last time, I stopped behind a large tree and peered in. I saw that the double stage drop was now a muddy runnel with snowmelt, bushes and mud leading to the runout area. Below in the debris zone is where my ski was supposed to be. I could see two specks of black, and a tip of a ski in the melting carved runout.
Getting down to it was the issue. There was no hucking the drop this time. It would be a tragic irony to land and go through the rest of the snow pack and lose another ski in another tomahawk. The answer lies in the river of water and mud trickling to my right. The next sequence is an ad lib that has no basis in snow science or widley accepted backcountry protocol. I don’t give a shit. Sometimes you have to do what you have to get your ski.
First time for everything. Stood on a bushy bench looking down and considered my future.
Step One. Side Stashes off. (Taking your skis off is a no no, but there was no chance to downclimb mudrunnel on skis.)
Step Two. Throw side stashes like a spear into the debris pile below.
Step Three. Grab slippery root in the mudrunnel and try to down climb over a ledge covered in flowing water and mud.
Step Four. Realize gravity always wins, commit to the muddy ass slide over the ledge and air it.
Step Five. Land onto the debris pile below in a spider monkey position.
Step Six. Wallow/ swim in the snow to find and retrive AK JJ. Use as a support to get to the Sidestashes. Get on em and get out of there.
Skied out decent corn on the old debris piles next to recent wet slide debris in the mddle of the far left west wall area. The slide went over the first roll and down near the traverse out from Tele Line. The crown was just under the cliffs to the skier’s right of my gully. It was about a foot and a half deep, the debris looked a day or two old.
Spider monkey pentrometer confirmed that the snow pack on the west wall was being bridged by a rapidly weakening mid pack crust layer being saturated with melt water. Underneath is loose and unconsolidated to the ground. The end is near.
Rescue mission a success. I skied out with three, being careful not to clothes line myself on the traverese out. Another first in my fifteen seasons here. Prouldy displayed my hard earned, slightly muddy trophy on the bus.
Sam, a EVI follower who I didn’t know, aked me if that was the indeed the rogue JJ from EVI. I laughed and confirmed. Talked about the state of EV and the crazy year on the way in.
EV season started two months late and ends a month early. Not much left in between.
Bluebird weekend with the Snowball festival. EV saw big numbers. 140 by two o’clock yesterday, 90 by noon today. Top of the World today reveals tracks everywhere. Temperatures rising again over 30 degrees.
Saw JD the Poma. He mentioned that he has seen plenty of large groups yesterday teeing it up everywhere. Tracks in the middle of west wall with no slide activity. Tweeners was stomped and Abe’s as well, confirming JD’s story. Met up with Law at the top by chance, grouped up with MFD and Atomic Mid Fat. Followed them down to Old Man’s. Cornice had risen dramatically with the wind arriving with the clearing storm.
Waited and watched the first two try to attack the cornice with a rope. Without the proper weight in the middle of the rope the rope cut nothing but plate sized chunks of snow while exposing them both to the edge of the overhang. They inched their way off the Old Man’s entrance with every rope toss and ended up over King Tut’s still trying to lasso a part of the cornice. I waited with Law above and watched. Good to leave a person in a safe area if you decide to tackle a cornice. I learned that lesson after my turn at cornice stomping left me with a ski in midair. A pole from Law behind me helped me back up to solid ground.
Skied lower down above the entrance proper as the calf roping continued. I asked them to back off a second. I probed the edge of the new cornice section at the entrance with my pole and gave a few good stomps. A sizable chunk of the newly formed section of cornice dropped and impacted the crown area of last weeks slide, the old bed surface in the middle of Old Mans almost completely filled in with the recent new snow. The chunks exploded on the scarp and ran through the frying pan. No step down, the new snow in the middle of the bowl held tough. Even with three hundred tracks in EV the last couple days, the rest of Old Mans was a blank canvas.
Dropped the entrance, skirted the debris and skied a surprisingly good Olds tree chute far right. Exited through lower trees where the snow was rapidly warming.
Wednesday and Thursday were two very different days. Wednesday the six or so inches came in wind affected and dense. The mountain was overrun, the front range emptying out for the busiest mid-week day this year.
Eighty people out in EV. Based on what I saw, the black flag warning was warranted. Recently formed windslabs with the warming temperatures were active in Benchie with the first crew. Tele line tracks were set in with no activity. My own experience in the West Wall didn’t go as planned, stuffed the landing and got hit by a small slab from behind. Thanks to Dan and crew for the spot, and the secondary spot when I went back to look for my AK JJ. The small slab was about a foot of new snow on the sun crust underneath. Thankfully, not a large release. a warning slap from EV was noted and I skied out with my tail between my legs. It happens, everything’s good till it isn’t. Get yourself in, get yourself out. Not my first time skiing out on one, still sucks on a powder day. Didn’t see any step down past the deceptively sturdy mid layers, just the warming, wind affected new snow.
The biggest evidence of activity was on the last pitch to the traverse from the Benchie drainage. Below the north facing cliffs above the traverse track the entire new load ripped out 100 ft wide and a couple feet deep, running through the disaster species.
This is the same spot that Colby De put a photo of on facebook earlier in the year of a similar slide. Below tree line problems again,a constant all year.
The day that shouldn’t be was filled with a strange manic energy. The Poma catwalk turned into 1-25 on Monday morning, filled with road rage and angst. Glad to see it end with nothing serious going down in EV.
Thursday was the opposite on the mountain and in EV. Storm day with nobody around. The front range frenzy was gone and the snow was much less wind affected, piling up all day. At 9 there was about four inches. By the afternoon the mountain was skiing well, filled in, and EV was reset with about a foot of new. Skied with J, DPS and Jonny R who hates EVI, but who I have a lot of respect for as a skier and experienced backcountry traveler.
Our run through Tweeners and the trees was silent, deep and uneventful, the new fluff not nearly as reactive as the previous days snow. Triangle face held and skied well. Much colder temps locked up the mid layer, at least for the time being.
Watched a group get into Old Mans, ski the right side trees and exit in the lower middle. No activity from their run, but the cornice up top appeared almost overnight, around four to five feet now.
Much better day all around condition wise and personally, kept them both on my feet. Back on the 207’s my favorite pow stick of all time. I found out the hard way that the enter mounted JJ’s are little short for landing gear. That’s right, blame the skis.
Today is one month out to AK. Tailgate AK and time on Thompson Pass on the mother of all snow years. Steep stable snow? Can I get an amen. A foreign concept for us Colorado’s backcountry skiers this year. Needless to say we at EVI, are pumped. For me it’s back to Valdez after a four year hiatus.
If any friends of EVI are going up there, let us know. We have a roving 30 base camp. Heard they are skiing tree lines for the first time in twenty years on down days. With 70 feet of snow and a relatively stable pack at the moment, AK is the call for avalanche weary lower 48 skiers. Yeya.
Headed out into the moonscape of the scoured world. Wind event 2012 is in full swing and EV is not immune. One look at the Gore Range says it all. Mountains bathed in white a few days ago are stripped bare, the precious contents transferred to Nebraska. Flagging on the peaks yesterday was huge, clouds of snow pluming off anything above 10000 feet. Really a sense of deja vu, the Poma hike scoured, the anti-tracks of travelers past sticking out in relief, exposed by the winds. It reminded me of early December conditions. DPS and I headed out just to see what the results of the wind, not expecting any phenomenal skiing. There has really been no periods of consistency with weather or snow this year and everyday seems to bring something new.
Not much traffic, no surprise there. Top of the World really wasn’t that bad wind wise, the worst of the event is hopefully over. Snow conditions were variable, meaning I skied seven different kinds of snow during our Tweeners run. Rock hard scarp gave way to thin window pane like wind slab. Old pow in the trees, old pow with a cracker crust in any sun hit lowers out of the wind. East facing sun crust of different variations. It was a snow condition buffet, and I had my plate full. I survival skied the run, but enjoyed it nonetheless. Hanging out with DPS on the ridge, looking around and shooting the shit is always a good time.
The run out to the water tank was the capper. The wind had brought down smaller limbs and pine cones and scattered them like confetti on the run-out. Flying through the luge on a mostly brown carpet with the crunching of the pine cones under the skis capped a strange, otherworldly run in a otherworldly year.
On the ridge we watched Benchie and Old Mans reloading, the plumes of snow cartwheeling into the scarps. The crown in Olds is still visible. The fracture profile looks pretty similar to the slide I set off with the ski cut heard round the world early in the year. Strip on the right side of Old Mans is holding tough.
I’ve chosen a couple of strip runs next to old slide paths this year. These strips of snow have provided good skiing, while mitigating the danger with the old slide path interrupting the open faces. Pow strips have provided this year when we couldn’t step out into the open faces we wanted to ski. Can’t ever remember choosing runs in EV this way during any other year.
East faces are crusted from sun and warm temps. Upper north aspects are cross-loaded or slid out. Lower protected trees are the best skiing at the moment, out of the sun and wind.
Bottom line in EV, we need the reset button pushed in a bad way.
Old Mans ripped sometime Thursday morning direct result of the cross loaded conditions created by the west winds and heavy snow. Wasn’t able to see it yesterday, as I took the advice of the updated message boards at the Poma and stayed away from the heavily loaded north aspects, choosing an east tree line next to a large slab that broke last week and hasn’t reset completely.
It sounded like Old Mans ripped above Poc Rock, on the hard scarp area and stepped down. It ran a good part of its track, wall to wall, into the areas that we consider safe areas to stop. The big question now is what is stopping Benchmark from doing the same? The only difference in terrain is the shrubbery in the middle, but don’t really think that would impede the formation of another wind slab release. Much of the middle, right middle of the bowl hasn’t been skied, and is sitting untouched.
Abe’s is the most popular route through the uppers, besides Tweeners. There is an overall feeling that it is a safe line is due to the amount of people running the left side, but in a fifty year cycle, that is no safe area, especially if it runs to the Tele line run out. Deep slab instabilities in areas not skied or slid are the biggest threats in EV.
EVI Update 2/25/12
Just wanted to update, after seeing for myself what was going on. Got a chance for rare Saturday run with a couple new ski partners. I skied an area that I never have seen, always something new in EV to discover. I got a unique view of benchmark and Old Mans.
Saw that there was definitely a slide in the middle of the bowl, but not nearly the size I heard it was. EVI lesson of the day, don’t believe anything until you see it for yourself. The skier’s right side of the bowl was intact, and the slide in CDC was covered.
Tracks in Abe’s, on the skier’s left side, nothing had moved, the middle of Benchie not skied and definitely wind loaded. The ridge top winds were howling on this blue sky day, and again the run choice out of the wind and in north facing lower trees.
No problems on the east facing traverse highway out of the Benchmark drainage last couple days, an area that I thought might be loaded and suspect. Glad to be wrong on that one.
Wind is the continuing story, as the jet pounds us. Down low the temperatures are warming again and east facing areas are crusting up big time in EV.
Out in to the 11 inch day at Vail yesterday on my day off. Skied inbounds for a couple nice runs and then headed out to see the conditions in EV. We seem to have avoided the big winds predicted for Wednesday and the new snow was accompanied by warm temps and layered in the resort like spackle. After waiting for openings, the sounds of bombs filling the air, we headed up the Poma. Took notice of the ski patrol bomb holes on the way out. No significant movement from any of the charges on the steep east face above the catwalk, just some isolated cracking around the blast holes. Looking around at the other black marks in China and Blus Sky and again, no activity.
The last three days I’ve been poking, prodding and stomping around, looking for evidence of instability with the recent winds and then the 11 inches that turned into a foot and a half in EV. We started our day in Tweeners, taking the opportunity to break small burgeoning cornice chunks along the way. As with the previous days, nothing. Some minor shedding of the upper wind affected scarp areas, but theses natural slab breaks were tiny and only ran a few feet.
The skiing in Tweeners was again accompanied by no movement whatsoever. No sluffing and no slab release in the upper concave wind affected face. The lower triangle face held again and we were off into the trees to enjoy some deep freshness. So far so good.
Second run we decided to get back to the Old Man. Old Man’s had sat unskied for a few days. With the ridge top winds, this was going to put our observations to the test. We spent a good fifteen minutes taking turns trundling stove sized cornice chunks down into the scarp area. We made a mess of things in the upper entrance, but completely necessary to see if anything would step down into the rollover faces that ran last week. Again watched the chunks impact and explode, with no results.
Stepped into the right side, J leading the charge and sent it. Watch as his tracks laced the right side again with no movement, sluffing cracking or slab release of any kind. Luke and I followed one at a time, meeting up at a safe area in the right tree stand. We all kind of looked at eachother. Holy shit, a day of deep snow and moderate stability. I couldn’t believe it either. Looking up, we could see that the second rollover face was still not filled in completely from last week and shark fins protruded from the thin snow. No visible naturals anywhere we could see. Spacklefest was on.
The factors?. I don’t claim to know why this was possible, but the dense wet snow, warm temps and little wind helped. The weak layers are still down there in the pack but at least today they were dormant.
Third run Luke and I had EV to ourselves and took out time to enjoy a lenghty skin. We took a slow boat out to our favorite actual East Vail Chute and took time digging a pit and doing some CT tests. We should have a video of the CT results and a brief gratuitous pow video to view soon. Again, the snow was deep and unreactive. Skiing pow without having to dodge bullets every turn was a nice change, if only for a day. We got out of EV finally around 5 pm. We were powder gluttons for sure, and our cup runneth over today. A whole large pizza then sleep.
Woke up, muscles tired and groggy. Looked out the window to see that reset button has been pushed again. Another four inches and dumping at 7 am, with the winds up and no visibility. Not assuming anything about snow today as weather conditions are drastically different. Start at square one with the progression of runs and snow assessment again. Headed out to see what is going on in the ever-changing world of EV Looks like second season is on and the storms are starting to track our way. Let you know.
Saw a two guys I recognized from yesterday at the Pitkin stop again today. Geared up, waiting for the bus and ready for battle in EV. MFD all-time/ Pontoons and his buddy mid-fat Atomics/ Naxos (the worst AT binding of all-time, sent myself to VVMC on those things). Asked them about yesterday, what they saw and such. Just interested in their observations from a big cycle day.
Didn’t think anything of it until I got to the bus stop after my lap. Saw MFD Pontoons standing alone. Said hey and inquired about the whereabouts of mid -fat Atomic. MFD said that his buddy kicked off and lost a ski. He was now alone in the Racquet Club chute. I asked him, matter-of – fact, why he wasn’t he with him? The answer.
MFD said that mid-fat didn’t know where he was exactly in the chute, but MFD had a good idea where he was. He was in touch by cell phone and was going to go around, find him then render aid.(Really?)
MFD said Mid-fat knew from yesterday that his bindings were “loose”, and he should’ve cranked them down, but ignored his advice. (punishment for using Naxos?)
Loaded the bus and sat watching MFD render aid by text.
When it hits the fan, who do you know that you can trust to keep their head and help you? How do you know? Solo missions might get a bad rap, but is it better than having a useless partner? Finding able partners isn’t the easiest thing, and might not be the buddy who is leading you into EV. No easy answer.
Went to check out the West Wall slide from yesterday. My personal powder hunting tempered by the recent events. Hit the ridge on a beautiful sparkling morning, with a couple of inches of fresh again as the snow cycle remnants moved through. Not many people out.
Checked out the track in the skier’s right side of the Wall that was put down by the skier who triggered the slide. He skied the first gully skier’s right in the Wall where you can sneak through through cliff band with minimal/ no air. A small sluff on the line, but that seemed to not relate to the actual avalanche. The actual slide was remotely triggered 75 feet to the skier’s left of the track towards the middle of the bowl. The crown was a foot to two feet deep.
Dug a pit on the 25 degree lead in to the roll over in the middle of the Wall, above the small, butried rock band that lines the top. Representative of the E aspect, but not the incline, as the face below the band rolls into the thirties at least and gets more sun than where I was going to dig. Heres what I saw.
Air temp: 3 C
Surface temp: 3 C
0-60 cms: 3mm facets/ fist –
60-70cms: melt/freeze crust/ pencil
70-80 cms: .5 mm facets(coulmns?) fist –
80-145 cms : .5 mm sintered rounds/ 4 finger
145-160 cms: .5 to 1mm stellars (new snow)/fist –
Thick crust with small, loose facets above the crust, below the dense, sintered old storm snow. Significant temp gradient around the crust.
Did a couple CT tests.
Here’s what I saw.
First column: CT-12 at 65cms Q1. Ran on the facets above the MF crust.
Second column: CT-2 Q2 at 35 cms. This column ended up next to an evergreen shrub. Broke within the depth hoar. Interesting the crust was knife hard around the shrub area.
Filled in my pit and headed out to the bus on a Tele Line ridge run. No obvious new activity.
Another Mushroom burial/injury on 2/16, not sure of all the details. Heard that the Kitchen was the place of the first accident a couple of days ago, not sure the exact location of this one, but Mushie strikes again.