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 up the Visti sipping a forty and listening to Def Leppard. Around Visti pole six I shot up, and by the top I was feeling loose. By the time I reached the Top of the World, I was cross-eyed and tingling. Continued down to Old Man’s where I stripped off all my clothes and straight lined the middle, still listening to Def Leppard and screaming “Ski to Die” with a Born to Lose tattoo on my bare chest, just like I did last week. Passed out in the trees at the bottom. Woke up an hour later, and started my traverse out.
It must have come to me in a dream, that everywhere in EV was filled with evidence of the large cycle that happened this Sunday. Crowns and debris were everywhere in areas over thirty degrees, N-NE facing in the trees. Found a good spot on a NE convex roll over around 9500 feet in a 150 foot wide clearing that had fractured during the cycle. A good spot to test in as the hangfire was minimal above, about fifteen feet to the line of trees and bed surface under my feet.
I wanted to check out the snowpack, and then do a couple tests and see if my results were in line with the obvious instability. Also I wanted to see if stability was any better a couple days after the event. I found the spot. It was N-NE facing, the roll over pitching to 36 degrees at the top of the crown. I choose to do a full pit profile, then compression tests and lastly an AK block, a test created in Alaska by Bill Glude.
You need a graduated probe, two dial snow thermometers(digital suck) a snow saw, inclonometer, a field book and a pencil. Keeping your pack and gloves on, lay your pole on the snow and use your shovel to make a nice clean wall down 160 cms the length of the pole in AK here to the ground. Why 160? Hard to trigger a weak layer over six feet, a full column would take too long in AK in the field. Put your probe in the side of the pit to use as a measuring stick.
Dig your pit and smooth the face of the area as wide as your pole. Enough room to not only look at the snow but then be able to cut columns for your test. Profile the snow on the graph in your book, noting hardness, depth of different layers, different crystal types and sizes. Also note temperature gradients every 10 cms(temperature gradients indicate poor adherence from one layer in the snow pack to the other. By using two thermometers at once you can expedite the process. You also note time, aspect, elevation, sky cover, snow and snow surface temp Looking for obvious weak layers, crusts and density changes. Use your hand brush whatever to feel the layers out and expose them. Mark three shovel indentations gently on top of the snow and cut each shovel mark with your saw and excava the sides of the block with your shovel to give yourself room to cut the back of the block with your saw to isolate the cloumns.
Cut the back of the block from both sides with your saw and eliminate the column in the middle. Now you have two isolated columns. Lay your shovel genlty on top of each column and do your CT(compression tests wrist, elbow and shoulder.) tests and check your results.
I dug to 110 cms and hit ground. I got CT-2(compression test with column failure on two wrist taps)on both columns with a Q1(very clean, easy) and Q2 sheer(moderately easy, not as clean) respectively at 60 cms on the old settled storm snow(.5 mm degraded stellars) interface on the 2mm loose facet layer. That means very not good. If you were guiding, you’d get the hell out of there.
Looking down the crown, I saw this was the layer weak layer on which the slab ran, probably triggered by a traversing skier or maybe naturally during Sundays’ cycle. So far so good. My transient test results confirmed the still awful stability in the trees.
Next was an AK block, a Reuchblock without the back cut, basically to make it more representative of a natural slope. Lay your skis out and dig the block face to your desired depth, 160 cms again is good or to an obvious weak layer you want to test. Isolate the sides of the block to a pole length with your shovel/saw.
The idea is to get your skis on, and get on the block. First flex your knees, then a deep flex then a series of jumps until you get the block to fail. Then you determine the stability by that number. Indicator of very bad stability.
Cut my block, took my skis than took one boot step uphill next to the block and the convex roll fractured 4 feet above the last crown 75 feet wide and moved about a foot. Exactly why you keep your Float pack on during a test. It did surprise me and I ended up hugging a chair sized block but again the slide had happened here couple days ago and I was standing on bed surface. I can only imagine what is was like on Sunday in these trees. The block itself triggered remotely with a Q1(easy clean) shear as well.
If you were doing any of these tests on a uncontrolled slope, you would have a spotters and/or anchors. Make you own decisions and do your own tests on your own ability level, using your own judgement. This goes for your skiing as well. I skied down linking snow-covered debris piles to stay out of trouble.
Bottom line: still crappy stability, but most main areas have run, although lurking pockets of instability im sure are there especially in the trees. Able to ski covered bed surface in all steep areas to avoid possible triggers. Although not like a few days ago, still very suspect in unskied debris free N-NE areas all elevations but especially down lower. East facing had crusted up due to the sunhit.
Snowpack: No significant temperature gradients in the pack
Here’s what I saw in my pit.
Ground to Twenty cms: Four finger 3mm moist loose facets.
Twenty to Sixty cms: Fist 2mm loose facets
Sixty to One hundred cms: Four finger settled old storm snow .5 mm degraded stellars
One hundred cms to one ten cms: Fist light new snow 2-3 mm stellars
At Sixty cms: The interface between the denser old storm snow and the loose facets was the spot where things have been triggering down lower in the trees.
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.
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.
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.