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.
Took a drive tour over Loveland Pass coming back home from the front range yesterday. Stopped to hike the dog up the eastside ridge at the summit of Loveland pass. Stomping through freshness layered in among the scree it was great to get smacked in the head with 0 degree, 30 mph winds under a cobalt grey sky.Stood into the wind and took a breath of the cold. The jet stream was whipping clouds overhead, obscuring the tops of the highest peaks off the Divide, blasting eastward. Snow was falling and the wind was transporting it in great swirls on the open faces of the pass, steadily erasing whats left poking through the snow. Off in the distance, A-Basin looked better than it did all of last year, lifts churning on a busy Saturday, snow in the tress .There were even a few intrepid souls braving seriously early season conditions on the West side of the pass, skiing down to the lower switchbacks . Looked to be about 8 inches of fresh on top of a 60 mile deep granite base. Admire the love, a little early for myself. Drove over a mitten in A-Basin”s cross walk. coming down the pass. No hand in it. Ahh winter. It’s back.. At least above 11,000 feet.
Back in our world, EV is covered in its first layer of the white stuff. I drove back over Vail pass looking the notorious layer that is the foundation for our snowpack. Usually for us in Colorado this becomes a loosely faceted layer that sets the stage for an avalanche cycle in mid to late November in EV and can dog us for the entire season, depending. Last season Old Man’s early season was perfect example, sliding to the ground in November.
This first snow set the stage for the crown jewel of a garbage Continental snowpack in 2011/2012. Early October snow with a long long period of clear, warm weather created 2-4 mm very loose facets out of the first snow. Surface hoar also reared its’ ugly head. When we finally did get some snow, it came with wind and the results….well you remember. The snow pack never recovered.
Our best hope is continued snow without a third Indian summer before the larger snow load arrives. As bad as last year was ,two years ago was the textbook for a decent snowpack. fo us. Snow, snow and more snow, consistent temps and little wind. “Average” year ? I’d take it.
Every year is different and fascinating in our world, , not only because of the endless variables that affect our snow, but the endlessly variable human element as well. You can’t make the stuff up that happens out in EV. Keeps me coming back and I can’t wait to tell the tale this year. See you soon at the bus stop. EVI.
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.
Howling ridge top winds today had me thinking of severe wind slabs. Anything North facing and open had to be severely crossloaded in the upper areas due to the north westerly winds gusting at times over 40 mph. Temperatures were warmer by ten degrees from the previous day. Headed out into the whiteout to the Top of the World where no one one was. Grey, windy and spooky, it was a throwback day in EV.
Continued the Tweeners excursions as visibility was almost nothing and it offered the sneak through the wind loaded upper areas. Traversing across the ridge to Tweeners, the hollow drummy sound of hard wind slab let me know that Benchie and Old Mans open areas were not to be trifled with today.
Matt and Peter caught up with me later after my run to let me know they had a windslab rip on a ski cut in the left side of Abe’s. Thanks for the info, confirmation of the wind slab issue. These young guns are part of the next generation of EV skiers that will be out there long after I’ve headed to the elepphant graveyard of powder skiers, Edwards. I appreciate them taking the time to be involved. If this site gives the up and comers out there any useful info that helps keep them safe, it is a success in my eyes.
Spent some time trundling person sized chunks of wind slab at the top of the skier’s right side of Benchie. No cornice on the roll, so I could do this. Watched as the wind slab chunks hit the incline and snow density change in the middle of the bowl, looking for propagation into the middle areas and over the cliffs into the flats. It can be an indicator of what is going on below the firm upper scarp areas in both Benchmark and Old man’s, where the snow softens and the angle eases. No reaction to the hard slab chunk explosions.
Moved over to Tweeners and did the same, taking advantage of the lack of the cornice to stomp around a bit. Again nothing moving after the initial slide for life the chunks did. Skied it with no activity, again no sluffing on the run, or cracking up top in the wind exposed entrance. Pleasant surprise.
The world below the ridgeline was completely different. Calm wind, relatively light new accumulation( a few inches) and skiing boot deep fresh powder on a supportive base. Stayed on the ridge line all the way to the end.
The face below Tweeners is notorious for sliding. Facing slightly NE, it tends to get crusts with the sunhit, then covered by storm snow. When instability is bad, this triangle face can let you know. Didn’t spend more a than a few seconds on the face, felt the crust at times underneath the varying depths of new snow. Again, much to my surprise, it held with out so much as a sluff through the run.
Had the world to myself, enjoyed the solitude in the Forgotten Trees with some fine pow skiing. Watching the snow stack up on the deck as the next system moves through(four inches at 9:45 of the fluff at EV base)Day off tomorrow should get back to the pits and multiple runs.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
So the snow has fallen and we are on the cusp of the “Full On” EV season. Too many red flags for us to venture back into EV today with the peaks flagging hard and the obvious avi activity in the back bowls off Two Elks. Took Martin’s advice and rolled up on a perfect powder day in the untouched Beacon Park. Scraped the rust off my single and multiple burial skills and waxed the time to under 3 minutes. Try and hold your breath for 3 minutes, imagine it being a lot worse when you/your buddies are buried and counting on each other to rescue them/you in time.
Hopefully, the two groups of skiers that braved the obvious warning signs and B-Lined back to EV or Mushie today are super dialed in. After meeting up with some of the crew, it was a no brainer to let the potential human avi bombs go do their work sans EVI. Besides, it was a perfect blue day to go rip Colorado’s finest packed pow.
We had a ton of fun ripping the front side and staying out of the danger zone. Sometimes you have to make your own decision to hang it up. I ultimately made the personal decision to not risk my season or my life based on my observations and gut feeling on the day. Tomorrow is another day and you can bet if all adds up to a safe drop, we’ll be back there doing what we do best!
Now that I’m safe and all cozy in my abode, I was digging through some folders and came across some notable pix from the snowmageddon season of 2010-2011. Just take a gander at these pics from 1/16/2011 and compare them to the pix in the Benchie Pit post… huge difference, enjoy.
The day after my showdown in Old Man’s I was back out in the mix. Not for the great skiing, but for a dubious anniversary. EV lost a great skier on this day some years ago in King Tut’s during one of the biggest seven-day cycles I’ve ever seen. I wandered up on the accident in a different party and ended up recovering Gus with a good friend of mine. A sobering reminder that there is a fine line between pushing it and pushing it too far. It was the first pack of the day and other friends rounded out the locals only group.
I was seriously spooked from yesterdays verification of a trigger happy snowpack, and was all about a crappy Mushie run. I let everyone know about what had transpired the day before and let them make up their own minds. We had come in separate groups and a group of geared up quickly and stood ready at the small tree platform above the skier’s left entrance of Abraham’s. I couldn’t resist the urge to spot them and see what was going to go down. I called coming and skied up to them, happy to let someone test the left side of Abe’s first. A shelf like cliff guards the entrance and is a prime spot to trigger a release. I’ve seen it break and flush at the exact spot.
They dropped, cut left into the denser tree slots. Both were able to cut left and then descend without incident. Other groups joined me at the spot and then took turns skiing similar lines. Nothing. It sounds crazy, but I was a little disappointed. All this build up from yesterday and I ended up crying wolf. I realized that I had let yeaterday’s incident and the fact of Gus’ tragic aniversary skew my judgement and assesment of a different day, different conditions in a very different area. The human factor by far, both the positive and negative aspects, is the most variable of all.
After six people had gone, Big J wanted to bring up the rear, so I gathered myself and dropped over the shelf cliff and into the left hand slot of Abe’s. The snow was at the knee and a little wind whipped, the fear of punching through in the back of my mind. It was evergreen slalom, and had to be wary of catching a non-exposed part of a tree or log.
The evergreens anchored the snow pack and combined with a day of settlement, the snowpack seemed to be a little calmer.
Aired over the little choke and into the flats and to my ski partners, happy to have gotton the first Abe’s out of the way. A few deep pow turns, thankfully without incident on a perfect day was just what I needed. Big J and I took our time and skied out with Brenden stopping along the way to enjoy the day and remenisce. I caught a glimpse on the way out of Old Man’s and turned away quickly, wanting to be in the moment and put it a literally and figuratively behind.