Wednesday, December 26, 2012

2012 Christmas Day at Pilot Peak

Another day of great skiing at Top of the World - Pilot Peak! Not very often I go into "Yo-Yo" skiing mode, but today I made an exception.
10 tracks at Top of The World; 2 sets from Pedro and I laid 12/24, 2 from unknown skier 12/25, and 4 from my skis on 12/25.
The ski conditions were quite good. The top 20 cm of the surface snow were low density and very soft due to the formation of near surface facets. Cold temps overnight due to a clear night sky favored radiation losses from the snowpack surface. The cold snow surface (-9 Deg-C) relative to the warmer snow 20 cms below the surface (-6 Deg-C) resulted in temperature gradients in excess of 1 deg-C per 10 cm. These temperature gradients favor facet crystal growth or facetting, thus the snow is less cohesive due to the lack of grain bonds between snow crystals. Facets crystals formation does not result in bonds between crystals, making that type of snow grain cohesionless.

However, the snow between 20 cm and 50 cm at Top of The World - MCS (8000 feet) is progressively settling due its weight and the rounding of snow grains. Temperatures deeper in the snowpack are fairly uniform at approximately -4 deg-C. The lack of temperature gradients favored the rounding of snow precipitation particles (stellars, plates, columns), where rounded particle pack more efficiently due to lower surface area per unit of volume.

As snow precipitation particles are rounded in addition to the constant action of earth gravitation, the grains are "squeezed" closer together. This process is called settlement of the snow, and it is just what happened between december 24th and December 25th, reducing the so much FUN deep ski penetration, or what we like to describe as deep POW skiing. Once the snow grain are in closer contact and in absence of a temperature gradient - then grain interfaces or necks are formed through a process we call sintering. The formation these bonds between snow grains form a skeletal structure that add hardness to the snowpack.

The snowpit profile for Top of The World included below illustrates the progressive hardness of snow from its surface down to the 80 cm depth.

The only layer of concern for December 25th was the buried facet/crust. Stability test results at the 20, 30, and 45 cm did not produce results for ECT (low probability of propagation) with generally moderate results for trigger (CTM) and slip likelihoods (Q2). No signs of instabilities were observed (whumphfs, cracks, natural avalanches, positive ski cuts in steep rolls, ...).

As snow continues to pile up it becomes increasingly hard to impact the facets above a crust buried 80 cm at MCS. This layer structure seems to be more reactive at aspects with a northerly component. Aspects with a E to S components do not produce ECT or PST failures. It is a good idea to continue to carefully monitor this facet/crust layer to avoid being caught by surprise, and have to deal with an angry deep slab with a 80 cm crown!

Enough about snow science ...

Christmas Day at MCS offered great skiing, but there were very few BC skiers/riders. One party headed over to Sunset, and there were two other parties at Pilot Peak side. It is likely that one of the parties was Mark (last year avi l1 student) touring solo, I could recognize his uphill and downhill racks at the hill.

There were some tracks at Almost Top of the World, but the first bowl was trackless. I was surprised about how little visit MCS had during the last two days.
Lightly Tracked - Second Bowl at "Almost Top of The World"
Trackless - 1st Bowl at "Almost Top of The World"
Out of curiosity I decided to ski down a spinal ridge that drops into the Pilot Peak road at 6400 feet. That was a very BAD idea! Below 6800 feet, the brush becomes problematic, and the risk to injury becomes too real. My strong suggestion is to continue exiting via the Pilot Peak road, after skiing down through Pilot Peak South Meadows above 6800 feet of elevation.

It will take at least another half a meter (1.5 feet) of dense snow to make skiing viable through all of the routes we like to ski down to the pull-outs where we park our vehicles.

I realize the Pilot Peak road is currently somewhat "instructional" for BC skiers/riders during downhill riding due to the snomobo trenches, tracks, and bumps, but it certainly beats the hazardous brush. However, I know Greg (groomer for the snowmobile association) will read this note and will be more than happy to groom Pilot Peak road ASAP.

Feliz Navidad!


  1. Feliz Navidad Chago! As always, thank you for the excellent updates from MCS. Hope to see you up there in the new year.

  2. Awesome info! Thanks. How can I meet other folks interested in BC?

    1. There are several options to meet folks to go BC Skiing; visit a local store like Idaho Mountain Touring or The Boardroom or Backcountry Pursuits, and ask around for contact information. Some of the folks working at this places are BC skiers/riders, and know many others that do.

      Also remember that BC companions are like your belayer during rock climbing, they hold your invisible rope to safety. Strive to find BC partners that have AVI Awareness or AVI L1 education, a minimum of CPR training and basic first aid, and that carry basic rescue gear (avalanche beacon, metal shovel with extendable handle, 3 meter probe, 1st Aid Kit).

      Good BC partners are highly desirable, so if you invest in your education and rescue equipment, once you find BC ski touring partners, your skills will be highly value, and you will never lack companions.

    2. Great site and info! Thank you Chago! I am also interested in finding BC partners. Completed AVI awareness education with SMG and have necessary gear. Will certainly try your suggestions. What peak(s)/aspects would you recommend to consider initially?

    3. The folks at Backcountry Pursuit are creating a list of BC skiers if my mind does not fails me. But you can also check the bulletin board at REI, or talk to the folks at IMT.

      It might not help right now, but every April we bring together all of the avi students to celebrate the season. Keep checking the blog for date and location. You will be able to meet other BC skiers/riders to partner with.

      With regards to what aspect ... Hmm ... my personal preference is to seek the best possible pow, even at the expense of steepness. Mid-elevations with NW, N, NE, and E usually are protected enough from wind and formation of radiation crusts.

  3. Just found this site, awesome! I have never toured in this area and would like some approach beta, aka which direction would you suggest i go from the parking lot? Will have to check out the snotel report once it will load for me, if the area got the dump i hope it did avy conditions could be challenging....

    1. To the West of Idaho 21 (and parking area/pullouts) you access the most popular ski touring areas. To the East there are very compelling ski lines, but it requires a longer tour to reach the Sunset Peak powder stashes to the East and North of the Lookout. Freeman and Pilot Peak have a lot of varied terrain that are easily accessed. Search the blog for topo maps, there are many tours suggestions, or move your PC pointing device to the edge at right of the browser screen and click on the 6th option (topo maps).

  4. Hi Chago!
    Those were my Christmas morning tracks on Top of the World and at Pilot Peak summit. How did you know? What a gorgeous day of skiing recycled pow. I didn't see you or your car that day. Hope to bump into you again one of these days.

    1. Mark, I recognized your uphill technique, and downhill turns. I made it a habit to carefully observe my avi students.

      That day, I friend of mine drove his car.

      Looking forward to run into you in the mountains.


The authors of this blog welcome any comments and suggestions that help with the mission of this blog or that positively strengthen the community represented by this blog.

Your message is of great value. Your comments will be posted as soon as possible.

Messages with profanity, poor taste, or lacking constructive value will not be posted.