Thursday, February 25, 2010

Avalanches, intentionally-triggered and otherwise

I am way behind on skiing posts. It’s not that I haven’t been skiing, it’s just that, as I’ve mentioned before, I like actually doing the things I blog about more than I like blogging. So today I’m going to catch up by posting a bunch of photos from the last week or so as well as some thoughts on the ongoing avalanche craziness in the Wasatch backcountry.

Last Wednesday morning, Aaron, Adam, Tyler, and I did a quick tour in Scotties. We saw a crown and debris pile from an earlier slide and went over to investigate. Nothing big enough to bury a person, but if it carried you into a tree it could hurt. We couldn’t tell if it was intentionally triggered, accidentally triggered, or natural. There were ski tracks leading to the top of it, but that could have just been another party checking it out.

At the top, we decided to do a bit of cornice kicking to see if we could get something to move. We used all the appropriate caution and had Aaron on belay while he did the kicking. The dropped cornice triggered a small slide, about 50 feet wide and maybe a foot deep, that ran for about 200 meters.

The good news is that the rotten layer that’s caused most of our problems this year seems to have bridged, at least in Scotties. The bad news is that we have this near surface facet layer that hasn’t settled yet, and the 30 cm slides like what we triggered could get bigger and more dangerous with another storm’s worth of snow on top of them. Oh, and the other good news is that the skiing was quite nice that day, at least until lap two when Aaron and Adam had a little more excitement.

Bonus shots from yet another morning in Mill D last Friday:

More bonus shots of Keiki’s first day on skis over the weekend:

That additional snow that could turn the near surface facets from dangerous to deadly has fallen in the last couple of days and was foremost in our thoughts this morning as Mike H., Alex, and I hiked up Flagstaff and looked into Day’s Fork. Reports from Bart, Dug, and Ben suggested that on some of the exposed, upper elevation slopes, the near surface facets don’t seem to be an issue, so we were optimistic about skiing Days for the first time this season (!?).

After kicking a half dozen cornices and not getting anything to move that was more than a few inches deep, we decided to ski cut the top and drop in. Release the avalanche poodle!

For the record, I would never ski cut a slope that I actually thought was going to slide. It’s just one more precaution after those already taken to try and ensure a safe descent. Nevertheless, there’s nothing fun about gliding across the top of the slope, avalung in mouth, hoping your assessments were correct.

Thankfully, they were. And the reward was white and delightsome.

The south facing stuff off Flag wasn’t bad either:

Now let’s just hope we finally get consistently stable conditions as the late-season el Niño storms start to arrive.

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