Driven out of Vail like the mighty lynx out of Cat 3 , I, Martineast found myself on the road in search of new terrain. The factors had come down from the universe and it was time to go. Really the death of the Visti Bahn was too much to bear. For me, that signaled an end of an era in Vail history and for me personally, my stint in Vail. That’s right, EV won’t have Martineast to kick around anymore. I look forward to the first report of conditions, I expect another touchy year with the early snowpack resembling last years’ junk underneath, but I can’t tell you for sure.
Wyoming, Utah, Idaho. Drove through all of these and had the urge to keep going. Washington. Pac-NW it is. Mt. Baker sounds good, why not? World record snowfall, middle of the Northern Cascades. No Condos, 125 dollar tickets or fur stores. A sick little resort resort tucked away from the world high in the Northern Cascades. Bellingham, the closest real town, is 50 miles away.
Different from Vail? About as radically different as you can get. Land of moss, weed, wool and hanging seracs. Volcanoes, ice, crevasses, glaciers. At the end of WA-542, Mt. Baker sits below Mt. Shuksan, an imposing Cascade wedge with a massive serac hanging from it. A couple day lots, couple of base areas and that’s it. Possibilities for backcountry around Baker. Endless. When you can see, that is, as weather is a constant off the ocean. Literally, the end of the road. Next stop B.C.
It’s been a long time since anything inbounds has required a second look to ski. I’ve been lulled into complacency by our wonderfully groomed golf course. Baker, however, has it all over. Better bring your A-game. Steep slots and trees runs, roll overs exceeding any point of repose in Colorado. Covered ice, rime spines, snow ghosts. Sidecountry that dwarfs the resort. Bottom line, if planet Hoth had a ski area it would be Baker.
Spent time out the gate my first afternoon to check out the snowpack. Dug my pit on a North facing 28 degree angle slope just above the gate, right off the skin track. Snow total, 305 cm depth on December 13. T his was before the current four foot snow cycle that has since closed the road. Results on my two columns dug to 160cms: CT-build a house out of it. Incredulous at the results of my first attempt at column failure, I recut and dug the second with the same result. It took all my weight and pulling on the second column as well to get a Q2 shear at 130 cms, way off any scale. Cascade snow pack is for real. I’m sure things have changed of late, our latest cycle has come with big wind, so we’ll see the impact of that. (63 inches in 4days, 100 plus trees down on the road up. Resort, I mean ski area, is closed for three days to clean up and dig out, truly a wild place on earth.)
Learning a new area isn’t overnight. I have no comfort level with the backcountry terrain here. My initial day had good vis and what I could see just on an EV length jaunt outside the area was vast and varied. Trees and spines, convex rolls and chutes endless are calling. In due time. It was good just to get my hands in snow and get a general idea of local conditions.
Here to relearn it all. I guess that’s the reason for the move. Look forward to the posts from Vail, Luke in Jackson, Me in Baker. EVI worldwide. Note: we plan on being in AK again if the snow shapes up, so stay tuned…
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.
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.
Our first official retraction. It was bound to happen. I swore off Tweeners, but today I cracked. Faced with the snow(although not the 39 inches in Steamboat) and increasing winds overnight, potential for wind slabs and stories emerging about tragic, multi fatality accidents like the one at Stevens Pass had me eating my words and standing down from anything open and wind loaded.
Although the accident happened two thousand miles away, the account resonates with every backcountry traveler. The world we hang out in is actually a small one. Experienced and using safe zones used for years. Scary. 100, 500 year cycles? Not even the most snow savy traveler can predict the end result when forces collide and all the variables line up for a huge avalanche cycles measured in centuries, not decades. We humans on our sliding sticks are capable of some entertaining things in these areas, but we are not in control.
Headed up solo first thing, got past the masses and ended up behind only DPS and J, no surprise there. Nice to hang out with some long time friends up top with no one else around.
About six new in EV, but of course the prevailing north winds filled in areas deeper. Left Abe’s for the crew behind us and skied Tweeners.
Three tracks in and not really even a sluff. The only sign of any slide activity was a small natural in Old Man’s at the point where the slide ripped last Wednesday, the new snow not holding on the old bed surface. We were the first out so not sure what went down afterwards with more traffic. Find out tomorrow.
Had a nice day in the trees and let the Old Man be.
Headed up to see the after effects of a big Saturday. Like heading into a trashed frat house after the cops come, the area was deserted and littered(with tracks, not Old Style beer cans) . Fully expecting to see some slide remnants in the bowls, but the reports of a slide in Benchie were just spray. Forty or so tracks in plain view. Plenty of snow testers exploring all aspects. Maybe a small fracture on skiers’ left side of Benchie, but nothing real significant and hard to tell as the area was laced with tracks on top of the possible remnants.
Greybird day and temperatures finally cooling off with the incoming front. No recent movement in Old Man’s, the right side stamped with tracks and a few poking into the first gully skier’s left of shrubbercross alley.
Took full advantage of the stability and headed left middle gully for the first time all year. One might even call it a, gasp, SKI CUT!!! Just kidding, can’t help myself. The snow was settled and surfy, no movement at all the run. Still some reef in the roll over gullies, but finally getting covered.
Some advice. 5 second rule. If you are going to delve into the middle of any open areas, you need to be able to ski your line all at once, with speed, without stopping on the cliff bands. Otherwise don’t bother. CMHing through these areas will get you pounded.
Headed out to the ridge and saw two small(30 ft wide) slab pockets had ripped on the lower skier’s right side of the West Wall. These were small shallow areas with no propagation or run distance (50 ft), an effect of the recent new snow on the sun baked east facing West Wall giving way.
Found good snow in the Forgotten Trees, shaded north facing, it provided good knee-deep pow skiing. Hit the lower cliff band in the trees and fractured a 20 foot circle of snow. Just collapsed, didn’t run but stopped me dead in my tracks. Time to look around and enjoy the solitude of the moment and the light snow starting to fall in the trees.
Found an undisturbed tree pocket next door to my landing to do a quick CT test and snow profile. 38 degrees, north facing, untouched. Perfect. Again not too much difference in the snow profile from other recent pits. 10 cms of fresh snow of 55 cms of slighlty denser old storm snow. At the bottom the less than fist density 3 mm facets still there to the ground.
105 cms total depth, -3 C air temp, -1C snow surface temp. CT column results were a little different from a couple of days ago.
CT-2 Q1 at 95 cms. Old snow/new snow interface, just the top fluff.
CT-17 Q3 at 35 cms. Again within the 3mm facets, but ragged and uneven.
Only did a single column, so no back up for the results. Just lots and lots of tracks. Lots.
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.
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.
Going BIG off a 40 footer in the East Vail Chutes. DEEP powder turns and some trees round out the run. EVI friends Big J and DJ were along for the trip. Nas provides the soundtrack. Stay Calm and Move Along.