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.
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.
Tuesday I made the most of the sunny afternoon to shoot up to the top of Benchmark, poke around and see what’s going on back in EV. Skinning out from Two Elk’s, it’s pretty obvious we are no where near the much needed snow pack to get things rolling in the back bowls. I love the sunshine, but seeing a brown-out on all the south facers that were caked deep only twelve months prior is a bit of a downer. Guess the snow is only hanging in the shade and baking in the sun. The slopes are littered with surface hoar, caused by the clear night’s frost and the sunshine baking bonds into weak facets.
Storms like this past Saturday’s is a little more what we could use three times a week for the rest of the month, but let’s face it, what’s here is now… and now we have a pretty weak snow pack. Studying the avy roses of the CAIC, the weakest areas should lie on the east facing slopes in the Vail-Summit Zone. I decided that’s exactly where I would belay to a shaded 38 degree slope on the NE side of the tall pines that separate East Abe’s and the open east facing slopes of Benchmark. Reason being, this is most likely where persistant weaknesses will remain throughout this season’s snow pack.
I harnessed up and tied in with the glacier line around a stout tree. Please be clear, it is not my intention to rope off and start popping off slides on purpose. A safety line is in every guide’s pack and is an extremely important tool for any back country traveler. Not to mention, it is the 8th Commandment in Bruce Tremper’s “Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain”: “Thou shalt use a Belay rope! Most serious avalanche professionals carry and use a belay rope.”
I am not an avalanche professional (yet), but I do posses the knowledge and self-preservation skills to have a 30m glacier line as a part of my BC toolkit. Hopefully it’s a last resort preventative from crack, pop, pin-ball ride through trees and a push off a cliff.
I dug a pit in what could be the sweet spot of a likely starting zone. During the careful descent amongst sloughing loose snow and little failures of the top layer my observations showed that there weren’t any cracks propagating off into the distance, but the small failures under my skis were enough to be wary of.
Got settled in, dug the “pit” and started to gather some data. There are presently as of 1/10/2012, 3:00pm above 11,400 ft. East Vail Proper, three layers to this shallow 70cm “snow pack”. The bottom 30cm is basically larger facets slightly bonded resting on depth hoar. The next 30-55/60cm are comprised of faceted loose grains and the very top layer 55-70cm is the last storm accumulation. The exposed snow is already riddled with surface hoar. Doesn’t look too great for the future, but some avi cycles are likely to occur with a big snow and flush this particular zone of some of those pesky white dragons for the time being. The snow pack is constantly changing and this does not mean that those dragons will not creep back into the mix in the future. So, beware.
An isolated column test resulted in the top 58-70cm layer failing after four shots from the wrist. Not too surprising, while the break was not completely a shear one (Q3). Four shots from the elbow failed at the 30-58cm range, again not a clean break (Q3). Under the right conditions, I’m sensing a collapse in these weaker layers after a good snowfall, or a human loads them.
For the real snow nerds out there (myself included), I measured the temps of the pack to see if there were any major gradients. Chose to use 20cm increments to measure within the noticeable layers and came up with 0 deg. Celsius at 10cm, -1.7 at 30cm, -3.4 at 50cm and -6 at 70cm. Towards the bottom 10-30cm that’s 8.5 deg/m, 17 deg/m in the middle
and 13 deg/m at the top. The numbers below 30cm represent a weak temp gradient (<10 deg. C/m). The rest of the snow pack has a strong temp gradient (>10 deg. C/m), and results in a loss of strength with facet formation. Math aside, we have plenty of weak snow to make conditions unfavorable in the future.
Cautiously negotiating my away from terrain traps and cliff bands, I skied my way to the lower angled aspect of East Abe’s and made some really fun turns. Crossing the creek and sticking skier’s right, I rode through the deeper shaded snow amongst the short pines until the waterfall. The ride was sugary and mellow. After the falls, the traverse left into the woods and the scarcely packed ski trail was extremely variable. We definitely need some serious snow in those woods to make the ride back to the bus a little less rough. The last bit of the trail is packed down by some snowmobiles and make the last portion along the water tower a welcoming slide home.
Not bad for my first “benchmark to water tower” trip of the year. Grand from afar, far from grand. It will be interesting to see how the snow pack in the zone evolves and how conditions will change as our season trudges on. Glad I was able to take the afternoon for some recon and gauge conditions until the next storm. Until then, keep it safe and pray for more snow!