Some Thoughts On Our Snowpack

This has been a tough week. Five of our brethren were lost in an avalanche here in Colorado. According to reports I read, this was the largest toll of skiers and/or snowboarders ever in the state in one single accident and was the deadliest since the Twin Lakes incident back in 1962. As a backcountry user this is really tough for me to process and I figured I’d share some thoughts on the slide. I also think that it might be good for me to discuss my processes for route selection in this difficult snow year.

The evening before the slide we drove up to Dillon to go to the Rocky Mountain High Benefit for CAIC at the Dillon Dam Brewery. Along the way I saw the results of the Straight Creek slides. It just seems like everything is going huge on the NE-N aspects at treeline and above. Though smaller than the Butler slide a few weeks ago, the traits of these slides were similar. I also pointed out the road slide west along the pass road from Sheep Creek Corner. There was a slide the previous Tuesday here that had the same hard slab traits with results to the ground. We discussed ideas for what to ski and confirmed our previous plan to stay low. Anything up high would be too dangerous at least NE-N and with the weather looking the way it was SW-E would be getting cooked by warmer temps from sun exposure.

We went to the benefit at the Brewery and I donated some books to the cause. I met Joe and briefly discussed some ideas for future projects that we have going. Then it was time for dinner and beers while watching some sweet Jeremy Jones movies. After the raffles we chatted some more and then headed home to get a good night’s sleep for the Coin Slot on Mt Royal.

Our group met up at 8am and headed up Mt Royal. It was a little warm on the sunny aspects but once we got into the Coin Slot the snow was nice and cold. The skiing was really good with about a foot of new. Bonding was great and the wind hadn’t had its way with it yet. After skiing that line we headed over to “Little Chief Mountain” for some more. The snow was a little heavier but that was expected at this low an elevation. Everything was staying put on the low angled slopes.

When we got back all hell broke loose as we got calls about a massive accident. After a few messages to make sure friends weren’t involved, I made a call to mutual friends of Joe’s and found out what happened. He seemed like such a great person. He had this excitement that reminded me of myself and my other friends with the fire for the mountains. He will be missed by many it seems, as will his partners. May they Rest in Peace.

For the last few weeks, since we got back from Fruita really, I’ve been itching to get out into the alpine for some peak bagging. It burned seeing all the trip reports from friends getting after it. My days off however weren’t jibing with the good weather days so I had to keep things more mellow. On the few days that I did have good weather there was just too much new snow to start getting up high safely. With about four feet of new snow since the last warm-up things are looking very sketchy for a little while, especially in the Front Range and Summit zones where the deep persistent hard slabs seem to be more of an issue. Yesterday as we were ascending Coin Slot again, I couldn’t stop worrying about this upcoming weekend. There’s going to be a lot of water freed up by the rising temps. This will lubricate the bonds between the new snow and the old melt freeze layer. I really hope that people keep their desires in check. Melt-freeze in my mind will need to work its magic for a little while before things actually do get safer. I see a fairly large natural cycle coming our way with the impending warm up. These slides will be very large in relation to path. I think it’s important to let this happen before venturing into higher terrain.

I’m looking forward to getting some peaks done this spring but will do my best to temper my desires with the reality of what’s going on in the snowpack. For the time being I plan on keeping my peak attempts to the southern mountains of Colorado where the persistent slab issues seem to be less dramatic. I hope there aren’t any more incidents this year and that those of you that read this hear what the mountains are telling us.

Safe travels this spring and please heed the warning that are so present before us.

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