Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Instability Blues

We're finally back home and starting to catch up on chores after a ski trip in British Columbia. We spent a week backcountry skiing at the Golden Alpine Sunrise hut, in the Selkirk Mountains northeast of Rogers Pass. We had 2 to 3 feet of new snow that made for wonderful skiing; unfortunately the avalanche conditions were extremely touchy.

Due to a buried weak layer of surface hoar and loaded by the weight of the new snow, natural avalanches were widespread. On steep slopes that didn't release naturally, it was very easy to trigger slides by ski cutting, jumping above the release point, or in some cases simply skiing nearby on the flat ridgeline.  We limited our skiing to only the safest low-angle slopes, and a few steeper slopes that had already avalanched (thus clearing the weak layer). The picture above shows cracking in the snowpack triggered by our passage, leading to an avalanche crown that our guides had triggered from above. When avalanche conditions are like this at home, I would usually just stick to the ski area and not even venture into the backcountry. It was a very educational week, seeing up close all the bad things that can happen when conditions are stacked against you. Our guides Brian Webster and Lee Johnston did a great job of keeping us in safe terrain.

Our group of 10 got a bonus day in the lodge. The schedule called for us to fly out from the lodge on Saturday morning, but the snow and fog made helicopter flights impossible until late Sunday afternoon. Other lodges in the area had mixed conditions, some groups were able to fly out Saturday and some were not. The good news is that we managed to squeeze in a couple hours more skiing late Saturday afternoon after the helicopter operations shut down for the day. And there was more good news when we got back to the lodge after sundown; Jess, our cook, had been turning out amazing meals all week and managed to do it once again, though using leftovers this time.

It snowed almost every day, usually filling in our ski tracks overnight. That was a bit of saving grace for having to stick with the limited choices we had for safe terrain. We only had about 30 minutes of really clear skies, with one day of mixed clouds, sun, and fog.

Pictures are online at my PicasaWeb album.

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