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.
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.
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.
Headed out into the bluebird Wendsday afternoon, eager to escape the groomed confines of early season Vail. I decided to head to the emptiness of EV. I skinned up Sourdough and headed past Two Elk, where the workers were just starting to pull out the picnic tables from the stacks. The back was empty and parts of the West Wall sat pasted an early season brown and white. Up the Silk Road I went and headed out the back door route to Old Mans’. It was nice to get out and stand on top of the ridge and take in the expanse of EV once again, though it looked vastly different than the last time I stood on the ridge. The prominent cliff band off the right side Old Mans’ entrance, which disappeared some time in January last year, was in full view now. At present it lies just below the ridge crest, but after a half season of regular snow load, the cliff band is at least thirty to forty feet below the entrance. The growth of the scarp above the cliff band is a true testement to the amount of snow transport that occurs at this spot due to the prevailing Westerly winds. Rocky tiers, cliffs and shrubs belie what was a smooth, fast entrance crowned by a massive cornice eight months ago.
I picked my way through the entrance and dove between rocky ledges and shrubbery, taking time to cut various pillowed pockets between rockbands. These small wind drifted areas provide good test spots for stability. There was little reactivity, and the old settled storm snow sitting on the usual layer of larger loose “October” facets skied like two feet of baking soda feeling unconsolidated and, of course, thin.
I skied cautiously to the flats and headed out to the highway instead of braving the thin cross cut over to the bus stop. I linked super slow pow turns in the trees on my way down, working my way past the half buried stumps and downed trees toward the highway. More snow than I thought, but two feet away from glory… Paitence friends and think snow.
Still in the midst of the waiting game, Wednesday November, 30th was the perfect opportunity to dust the cob webs off the ‘ol Avi gear and put the “Avalanche Thinking Hat” back on to go poke around in the Vail Pass Backcountry.
The week was full of sunshine and moderate temps that kept the somewhat minimal “snow pack” at a danger scale of Low or Level-1 on NW-S aspects below treeline up to the peaks. Aspects near and above treeline facing N-SE were rated as Moderate, or Level 2. Wednesday afternoon was a true bluebird day, mid thirties on the mercury, 34% humidity and 5-10 mph winds out of the west at 10,600 ft. All signs pointed to Uneva as a first good “tour” of the season, with relatively safe conditions and a chance to hunt down some ski-able powder.
Starting out at the Vail Pass Winter Rec Area, sets of perfect powder turns were already visible up on the SW facing aspect of the drainage just South of the Uneva bowl. A well established skin track already set on Corral Creek Trail made it very nice not to have to break trail, but here and there to keep in tune with “Avi-Thinking”, it’s really important to me to get out of the grooves and break some trail of my own, to gather info and tune into the signals and Red-Flag warnings the ascending trek and snow pack can scream or whisper at me… i.e; whoomphing, collapsing, cracking and sinking up to the top boot buckles. Not to mention poking into the snow pack to gather data on depth and what kinds of hazards are lurking under the deceiving white surface of snow. There are still some buried roots/downed logs, “Shark Fins” (buried rocks) just waiting for an unsuspecting rider to viciously end their season early… Right now the data is a mixed bag of sun drenched areas with zero snow up to two and a half foot deep drifts and everything in between, so be very careful on the way down!
Each step of the trek through the old fire-scarred area just South of Uneva up into the 30 degree sloped gully produced incredible views that improved with each lunge upward. Soon, treeline was well below and Panoramic views of the Ten-Mile and Sawatch Ranges started to peak out in all directions. The ridge-top was so scoured by 20-30 mph wind gusts that boot packing was the only remaining option of ascent. As I traversed north to the ridge-line that lay south of Uneva Peak, it was obvious that the prevailing west winds have been working hard to load the easterly aspects with as much faceted snow as possible. This wind loading is burying the “White Dragons” of the past record-breaking 2010-2011 winter season and hiding potentially very deadly scenarios for our upcoming season. Just stick that under your Avy-Savy-Hats and save it for later on this winter…
There was the first “Red-Flag” of the Tour! The Next was a 40-60 meter long crack that had shot up-slope from where a bunch of dog tracks danced in circles out on the wind loaded cornice. The crack measured a fist and a half to two fists wide creating a semi-truck wide cornice that would have no doubt given that pooch a First-Class ride to a summit county demise on the east side of the ridge. The third and final “Red-Flag’ of the day was my misstep from the scoured solid earth of the ridge into a thigh deep hole just short of the previously mentioned cornice. What a way to emphasize the oldest Avi-Traveling rule in the book… never walk out onto a cornice! That sixty pound dog was lucky, just another 100 lbs. and a few more of those deep steps out onto no-no-land and you’ve got the human factor that so famously causes deadly avalanches.
With all the data and info fresh in my head, “Red-Flags” resonating their priceless messages and the final ascent to the 12,522ft peak that is Uneva, I took the time to sit down and reflect on my journey to the summit. All of the little details and warnings add up to one of the most important decisions of the tour; how and where to descend. I opted for the SW facing shoulder of Uneva north of the Cirque, stuck to the 30 degree and fewer pitches and stayed clear of the rock features that create the chutes. Half traversing, half dropping into steeper zones, navigating the terrain was a mix of sun baked crust, facet filled depressions and full-on powder near and below treeline. Sticking to the shaded sides of the trees and the uphill side of the drainage that flows out of the Uneva Basin, I quickly descended to the natural downhill ramp that leads back to corral creak trail, the car, safety, a hot meal, and not to mention cold beers with good friends.
Not a bad first tour of the season! Being able to take advantage of the chance to dust off the Avi-thinking dust and cobwebs, the opportunity to snap shots of the surrounding mountains and scenery are what makes living and riding in the Vail Valley backcountry so rewarding and enjoyable!
New video is live! Some of our favorite hits from last year and a few bits footage left on the cutting room floor. Big air, cliff drops, deep pow, and tight trees…all the usual fare from us. We put this up to get psyched for the 2012 season…here’s to hoping it’s a lot like last year! The Black Keys provide the sounds.
Snapped a quick photo on a hike into the Gore the other day. The old man still has a good sized chunk of snow hanging tough in the 80 degree summer heat. A far cry from the towering wall of snow in March…but impressive in it’s staying power nonetheless. A reminder of a great season and hopefully of what’s to come.
The reports of EV demise are greatly exaggerated. Skied the old mans again yesterday, continuing the spring old mans addiction and found winter like snow conditions with the three or four inches of fresh snow. Continuing to keep the notch viable with the saw for those who dare venture into old mans. The cornice continues to grow, a bulging overhung mass that now looms over the entire bowl. I’m sure there is a formula for the energy released by this death star sized snow load if it fell, something I’d love to see (from a significant distance). The drop in in requires putting that image out of your mind and railing it.
The end of the poma is my favorite time of year for EV. Traffic slows to a crawl, reminiscent of ten years ago, when you could count the number of tracks on one hand in Benchie and Old Mans. Conditions are the best I’ve ever seen for this time of year. An EV with winter snow and not one bare spot on April 15 is something that hasn’t happened since I’ve started skiing back out in EV. I’m truly an old fart so that’s saying something.
If your willing to skin a little longer, the reward is worth it. Peace.
Reporting after the latest storm blew through. Dumped eleven inches in a matter of hours on Sunday. Went to battle the cornice in Old Mans Monday the entrance topping out at a ten foot drop, even with the help of the trusty ol G3 bone saw.
The cornice to the skiers left of the gash is topping forty feet, easily the biggest I’ve ever seen. Teed it up with the boys on Monday, success ratio for the drop in for the cornice is around 40 percent, with some epic double back handsprings, luckily no injuries except bruised egos. Stability was very good with the new snow adhering well to the old snow surface, light sluffing in the middle, but no step downs past the old surface layer.
Had to go back to get the saw after it dislodged from my ski pole and dropped into the landing zone. Had and interesting time climbing down the notch with my whippet and Side Stashes as tools. Able to cut a ledge half way down, then got myself down using the tails of the skis as anchors. Lowering myself to the deck seemed like a foregone conclusion until I kicked a step into air pocket in the cornice and pulled a slide down cornice face to back handspring maneuver. A ten minute hike to my gear under the cornice with a sprained shoulder as my reward for trying to free climb down a overhung ledge. He’s a big dumb animal folks. Got my saw.
Monday skied well, with the cold temps sticking around to keep the snow good all day, reminiscent of a January day. My spring addiction to Ol mans continues, as the drop in really thins the herd and allows for great skiing the day of the storm. Tuesday was still cold, but the solar energy manked up all of Old Mans as well as the rest of EV. That time of year.
A shout out to Johnny R for skiing chutes and ladders solo Monday afternoon. Tracks looked sick coming around on the bus after my third lap, with the late day EV bus riders looking out and wondering who would ski such a line. Nice line. Waiting for the next reset button to be hit, as it looks like another pacific storm starts to roll in on Wed, and snow continuing for the weekend. Stay thirsty my friends.