Thursday, April 10, 2014

Avi courses with Chago and Pedro

Acquaintances and friends have been wondering how to be part of the exciting and innovative avalanche courses where Pedro and I are part of the instruction staff.

For USA courses contact Silverton Avalanche School (SAS) at:

This was my second year at Silverton, and Pedro's first. The instructors and participants stay at the historical St. Paul Lodge. Many of you recall from how much fun you had with Pedro and I in a backcountry hut. Next year you have a chance to relive those old memories.
This year the SAS Avalanche course was designed to minimize time in the classroom. We only spent 4 hours in the classroom in downtown Silverton, and the rest of the 3.5 days in the field at Red Mountain pass.

New innovative concepts were covered in the field, introduced at the hut during teams trip planning sessions, or during teams trip debriefing at the end of the day.

Every evening we had Special topics meant to enhance understanding, instead of providing knowledge that will be forgotten after the course. The special topic sessions were conducted under a relax environment, next the fireplace, right after dinner.

Space is limited, thus if you are interested you need to contact Silverton Avalanche School not later than late in the fall.

Edit by Pedro: I am interested in teaching a "Avy for Teens" or "Avy for Family with Teens". If that sounds interesting to you, let us know so that we can try to make it happen.

The Austral winter is fast approaching. Snow is already falling in the Andes! It is about time to start daydreaming about the skiing in the Andes Mountains. Below some pics from last July/August 2013.

Maybe these pictures will convince you to join us this year in South America.

For english based avalanche courses designed for European/American/Canadian skiers in the Chilean Andes feel free to contact:

For english/spanish avalanche courses in Argentina:

For Spanish avalanche courses in Malalcahuello-Chile contact:

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Pow at Top Of the World in April 2nd 2014

Super FUN day at Pilot Peak!  Nature continues to be bountiful.
Top of The World - Pilot Peak

No need to add words. The picture and video shared above tells it all.

The buried weak layers  created by thin rain crusts in top of cold snow are sintering well, not a surprise considering the significant short term loading of 70-90cm for the last three storms, combined with snow temps in the -4 to 0 degrees celsius. East aspects produced resistant planar fracture quality results (Q2) with moderate trigger scores  (CT11-20). No evidence of propagation was found. At 7800 feet East aspects the new snow load since last Wednesday March 26 was 90 cms.

At 7600 feet North and Northeast aspects the new snow load since last Wednesday March 26 was 70 cms. Only broken fracture planes under scores in the hard end were produced. Pretty surprising results!

The snow is sintering very well in top of last Sunday snow. In addition, no signs of natural releases were observed either. The new snow was deposited in what appears to be during a period of light Northwest winds. More northerly aspects had 20-25 cms of soft pow, and aspects with more East had 25-30 cms of the soft stuff. Typical of this time of the year, at lower elevations (below 6500 feet) the snow was impacted by the bright and warm effects of the sun.  As we skied out in the afternoon, the snow was densifying. However, it is reasonable to expect crusty conditions by Thursday. The trick for the next days will be to search for high elevation snow at protected slopes with N & NE aspects.

Below pics of Almost top of the world. As noted earlier the snow was more plentiful, but also softer than at Top of the World.

As we skied out via the Knob, we were reminded how much different the snowpack is this year. Skiing out through the Summit Creek was easy! After three years of spartan amount of snow at lower elevations, it feels good to JUST ski out without having to bush wack at the creek bottoms.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Spring Pow at Freeman Peak - March 30th-2014

Mother nature has been generous lately. Last Thursday we had a remarkable day of pow skiing [] , and we got today another chance to enjoy pow skiing late in March.

The next video summarizes well the ski conditions:

It was tranquil day with interesting lighting conditions. Below some randoms pics snapped during the day.
Mores Creek near its headwaters at Freeman Peak. 
Mossy tree at the top of Freeman meadow.
View of Sunset Peak from Freeman Meadow
Sweet tracks at Freeman.
More ski tracks at Freeman. 
Pedro skinning up.
Blue skies, sun, and good skiing!
The day started obscured but blue skies and sun intermittently made their appearance between convective cells precipitating more snow as well as graupel.
Graupel mini storm.

It was impressive how much snow has been added to the snowpack since last Wednesday, over 50 cms!
Quick snowpit at 7200 feet. Old wednesday snow interface at 50 cms.
Notice in the above picture the snow depth at 270 cms! Mores Creek Summit has an exceptional coverage, and spring skiing is going to be epic!
Quick Snowpit at 7800 feet. Weak layers at 25, 40, and 50 cms.
The 25 and 35 cm layers identified last Thursday are now at 40 and 50 cms. Both produced moderate compression test results with resistant planar results (Q2). The new snow (20-30 cms depending in elevation) rested in top of a thin wet layer.

Solo skier climbing in the middle of a popular ski run at Freeman.
A solo skier was also ski touring Freeman. At one point, as we skied down a popular NE slope with 32 degrees slope angle we notice the solo skier below us. We were puzzled. Usually we avoid putting tracks on ski runs, and whenever possible do not skin up on slopes above 30 degrees, in steepness. The solo skier was heading up for his second ski run.
We continued skiing and at the bottom of the run we triggered a very small surface wet slab at a steep roll-over. See picture above. Notice the uphill track of the solo skier.

After our 4th ski run, and as we climbed to the Top of Freeman, we became aware of the solo skier absence. Pedro and I were curious about potential activity at the steep shots below Freeman Summit, and skied down to take a look. Considering the snowpack conditions we were not planning to ski the steep lines. A quick hand pit at Shot #1 confirmed that the new snow was sitting in top of a wet interface. We traversed to Shot #2 and immediately noticed an avalanche release on the third turn of the solo skier tracks. From above we could not identify the exit tracks. Carefully I skied from safe island to safe island to scout for exit tracks.
View of skier trigger avi from above. After three turns down the avi was triggered.
Pedro keeping eyes on me as a ski down on. 
The avalanche crown - 3-4 meters wide. 
1/3 down the avi path, avi flanks are easily identifiable.
Once we got to the avalanche debris we identified the exit track, which was near the bottom, next to a tree with its base heavily pplastered by snow from the avi. Just to be sure we searched for a beacon signal, and carefully inspected the small debri field.

skier triggered avi debri field
Looking up from debris field into starting zone.
Avi debris field - 1.5-2 meter deep

Looking up from debris field into starting zone.
The unstable signs were there. Another avalanche has also released nearby - see picture below. The skier triggered avalanche and natural release could be characterized as wet slab. The new snow was settling fast due to warm temps, but the interface was moist due to Saturday's rain event.
Small natural release
I must admit that I was angry for having to expose myself and my son Pedro to avalanche terrain to make sure the solo skier was not injured or buried. I can understand folks with higher risk tolerance ... but these folks also need to be aware of the impact of their actions in others.

The solo skier was not only lucky not to get buried, but not to impact the tree near the avi track bottom,  immediately next to his exit track above the avi debris field. Furthermore, the avi did not triggered the weak layers buried at 40 and 50 cms. That would have definitely KILL HIM! Very lucky indeed.

I hope this incident becomes a teachable moment for the solo skier. In danger of making too much out of this incident and perhaps aggravating the solo skier, I will list some of the best practices not applied by the solo skier during his ski tour:
  • Do not put a skin track in terrain above 30 degrees AND where folks might be skiing above you!
  • When you see folks looking into the snowpack, ASK about it. They will be more than happy to share their findings.
  • Select terrain carefully where there are no terrain traps (no trees and flat gullies below avalanche path!).
  • Look for signs of instability, if you search hard for them you will find them!
  • Ease into the terrain. Ski shallower lines before moving into steeper terrain. It will give you time to gain information about snowpack at various elevations and aspects.
Lastly, there is a NEW snow type of machine - SNOW BIKES - at Mores Creek Summit. They had to work hard to get out of the steep drainage (and exposing themselves to steep unstable terrain). It seems to me snowmobiles are still the way to go!
Snow Bikes near Mores Creek Summit headwaters drainage.
Snow Bikes near Mores Creek Summit headwaters drainage.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Pilot Peak POW day - March 27th 2014

March gave us two days of excellent pow conditions last Thursday and Friday. The last storm arriving today, Saturday 29th brought rain and wet snow to most of Idaho high elevations. Mores Creek Summit snotel tells the story very well; temps are well above freezing and snow depth holding constant after 15 cm of liquid water precipitation. Hopefully temps will drop tonite and new snow above the rain and wet heavy snow from today should make skiing fun for tomorrow. The chart included below was generated using trip planning tools.

The next video is long. I recognize I am a terrible video editor, and it was hard to cut what looks to me like pretty good pow skiing. Pedro and I took turns with the GoPro camera. Enjoy it.

Early in March we had another pow ski day: but the snowpack structure did not gave us confidence to ski lines above 35 degrees in steepness. Similarly, Thursday snowpack structure provided us with evidence of instability and limited our skiing to lines below 35 degrees in steepness. The next pics illustrates cracking of a soft slab above fragile near surface facets with rimmed precipitation particles from the early part of the storm.

The weak layer interface  responsible for surface cracking reside at a depth of 25 cm. This reactive weak layer rests above a fragile decomposing crust. Below the crust another layer of facets was buried 30-35 cm from the surface. Both weak layers failed stability tests with easy scores (CTE and ECTP1-2) and sudden collapses (Q1). Not surprisingly, every slope we skied exceeding 30 degrees produced spider webbing fractures, but the soft slab nature inhibited propagation. Indeed, we were deliberate to avoid any slope impacted by wind transported snow as well as wind slabs at ridge tops.

It snowed for most of the day, augmenting the snowpack depth by 10 cms by day end. Too bad we could not count with our usual cooler weather to preserve the good snow!
Pedro and falling snowflakes (not google pics simulated!)
Naturally, anticipating the storm arriving Friday evening we experimented with an extended column tests were we loaded the equivalent of 20 cms of 10% snow. The extended column produced fracture propagation with sudden collapse and planar character. Tomorrow Sunday I will be touring the backcountry to understand the extent of this latest instability cycle.

The best skiing could be found at treed and open meadows that protected the snow from strong south easterly winds.

Pedro skiing the pow
Pedro skiing the pow
Pow slopes!
Once more the coverage at the creek bottoms and road level is pretty good, providing with fun skiing top to bottom!
Summit Creek
Walking back to the car along I21.
The later part of March Pedro and I spent it at Silverton Colorado teaching a Silverton Avalanche School Avalanche Level 2 course. In addition we spend time with Chris Landry from the Center for Snow & Avalanche Studies coordinating the near future installation of three miniFMCW radars developed by Pedro and I.

Below few assorted pics from this year Silverton Avalanche School Avi l2 course. Please feel free to contact Jim Donovan at Silverton Avalanche School (SAS) if you are interested in participating in their courses, or better - if you want to be part of next year SAS AVI L2 courses with me and Pedro. Space is limited. In addition, there are a number of new didactical techniques recently developed by us that allow to cut the classroom time to half day for SAS Hut based courses. This leaves 3.5 days for field work! And, Red Mountain Pass  in Colorado with its complex and variable snowpack typical of high elevations provides ideal terrain and snowpack for learning snow science and advanced travel techniques.