Thursday, January 24, 2013

BSU Cryosphere Research - Bogus Basin Snow Study Sites

During the last two weeks, as the valley soaked in cold air, the temps at Bogus Basin have been warm, and arguably "balmy". Several BSU snow researchers have been feverishly preparing snow study sites, setting-up perimeters ropes, setting bamboo poles, transporting and testing instrumentation, and digging many benchmark snowpits. Of course, there are perks with this research job since we get to do some skiing as we move between snow study sites.
Deer Point Express during mid-January, as we head to snow study sites. 
Views to the South East from Deer Point - Inversion weather, warm air above cold stale air in the valleys.
Under the leadership of Hans Peter Marshall, a charismatic BSU Geophysics professor, this team of cryosphere researchers and students are advancing snow science in Boise.
Our leader, HP (Hans Peter) testing radar equipment last fall at Bogus Basin site.
BSU's Geoscience and GeoPhysics snow research work has made it already to prestigious conferences such as the well recognized International Snow Science Workshop (ISSW).

The Boise State University Snow scientists not only conducts research in the Boise campus and Bogus Basin, but also has various snow study areas across SW Idaho, Colorado, Austria, Canada, and South America where cutting edge experiments and fundamental snow physics investigations are conducted, in progress, or planned.
BSU Environmental Building - Home of the Geophysics department, and headquarters of the Cryo Team
So, what is a cryosphere scientist? Next, I include an excerpt from Wikipedia, that enlightens us. Basically, a Cryo researcher investigates the science of frozen water. Frozen water can be found as seasonal snow cover, but also as glaciers and permanent snow fields.
cryosphere, from the Greek cryos "cold", "frost" or "ice" and sphaira, "globe, ball"- (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
BSU's Cryo team is chracterizing snow stratigraphy (layering) with various radar technologies, infrasound detectors for avalanches, chemical and isotope characterization of snow, near-infrared snow imaging, impact of grain type/density on IR thermography, water movement in the snow,  as well as other snow research opportunities.
Lysimeter in place at Bogus Basin Study Site - tipping water buckets are used to measure water flowing under the snow.
Upward looking Ground Penetrating Radar that track snowpack stratigraphy through the season.
Skiers and Riders driving up to Bogus Basin have seen the hydrological station below tree-line, but there are other sites at Bogus Basin Ski Resort where the secrets of science are being unveiled! Most of the experiments required high-tech devices, making the tasks interesting but challenging due to the complexity of some of the equipment.
BSU - Geo Sciences Meteorological Station
BSU Geophysics main snow research plot - where radar, soil moisture and large area water balance experiments are conducted.
Views of Idaho Mountains from Bogus Basin main snow study site.
But research activities also require plenty of snowpit work, where hardness profiles, near infrared spectrum imaging, infrared and thermocouple based temperature profiles, snow crystal characterization (type and size), and snow densities are meticulously recorded. Samples of snow are collected as well for mass spectography isotope and chemical analysis.
Snowpit at a side-country snow study site.
Side-country snow study site with "low-tech" snow height stake.
The research conducted at Bogus Basin is essential for advancing radar technolgies that will allow to estimate "snow water equivalent" over large geographical areas. In addition at Bogus Basin snow science experiments conducted by the Cryo Team are meant to improve avalanche forecasting for Idaho department of Transportation, as well augmenting snowpack fundamental understanding to be leveraged by our local area backcountry avalanche forecasters.

For our community, the BSU Geosciences Graduate department, and Cryo Team to be successful we REALLY need your cooperation by not disturbing the snow at the various snow study sites. We count with your support to remind your friends about the importance of snow research at Bogus Basin, We are certain that you can be a positive force by persuading fellow skiers to stay-off within the perimeter of Bogus Basin snow study sites.
Tracks by unknown skier that crossed rope and skied within the snow study site perimeter.
If you see us around by any of the Bogus Basin snow study sites, please feel free to ask us for a tour. We will be happy to share with you the work we are doing.

Our snow observations are not only limited to snow sites in the mountains of Idaho, Colorado, Austria, Canada and South America, but we are also intrigue by snow metamorphism right out of our homes in Boise. The cold temps during the last weeks resulted in faceting of the snow cover in the Treasure Valley. Check the pics for  facets at Warm Spring Mesa neighborhood.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Peak 1 - Soldier Mountains January 2013

It is very unlikely that anyone driving to Sun Valley through Idaho 75 will not notice the Soldier Mountains next to Fairfield with their aesthetic ski lines. The rising crest starting to the east with Peak 1 at 9147 feet, Peak 2 at 9529, Peak 3 at 9666 and finishing at Smokey Dome at feet 10095 feet are spectacular.
Views of Soldier Mountains Crest from Peak 1: Peak 2 in the foreground,  Peak 3 in the middle, and Smokey Dome in the back.
Sunday was remarkable day to be at the summit of a high peak, and we were able see Nevada's Independence Range to the south, the Tetons to the East, as well as the impressive Pioneer range to the northeast.
Views from Peak 1 Summit - Soldier Mountain Ski Resort Top Lift is highlighted in the lower center.
Temps were -1 Deg C at Peak 1 summit with moderate winds, allowing Steven and I to enjoy the relative warm weather.
Steven at Peak 1 Summit. Extensive views to the North from Peak 1 Summit.
Steven at Peak 1 Summit with Peak 2 in the background.
Chago with Peak 2 north east ridge in the background, where many moderate BC skiing lines are available for the takers.
The top 1000 feet of skiing was on a very carveable and soft sastrugi. Sastrugi has got a bad reputation, which is greatly unjustified - I think, since sastrugi is an unequal match to alpine mountainous settings. High quality Sastrugi skiing from a mountain summit is like surfing a reef wave in a warm tropical October afternoon without any winds in what it feels like an oily surface where depth perception fails to distinguish between ocean and horizon - a rare occurrence!
Peak 1 Summit - Sastrugi Skiing by Steven
Sastrugi transitioning into wind blown POW. Skier = Steven.
Transition zone between sastrugi and wind blown pow.
Wind Blown snow at the East Glades of Peak 1 - 8700 feet.
The Soldier Mountains have a reputation for their fierce winds, but folklore forgot to forge a reputation for the ability of these mountains to ALWAYS provide a stash of good snow, waiting for skiers to harvest their goods. Enjoy the next two video clips; the first one is at the 8400-8000 feet as Steven skis a snow surface  transitioning from Sastrugi to wind blown pow, and the second video is of Steven skiing diurnal recrystallized pow between 7800 and 7200 feet of elevation.

Enjoying the snow goods available at Soldier Mountains requires an easy driving (2.5 hours) from Boise to Soldier Mountain Ski Resort, getting a very affordable one way up ticket at Soldier Mountain Ski Resort, and the extra physical effort to cover the distance from Soldier Mountain Ski Resort at 7200 feet to the eastern base of Peaks 1 and/or 2 where fun skiing starts at the 8000 feet level.
Topo map for SOldier Mountain Ski Resort and Peak 1 and 2 BC Skiing Possibilities.
During the last two weeks we ski toured Peak 1 and Peak 2 (January 20th and January 5th) and glided on soft snow that rivaled in quality with many other central Idaho locations. Check the video and pictures snapped last January 5th as we skied Peak's 2 NE ridge fabulous lines.

January 5th Pow Skiing from Peak 2 NE Ridge at 8600 feet.
View to the East from Peak 2 NE Ridge at 8700 feet
View to the West from Peak 2 NE Ridge at 8700 feet - Smokey Dome North Face
View to the South West from Peak 2 NE Ridge at 8700 feet - Peak 2  in te left and Smokey Dome in the  right.
Soldier Mountain Ski Resort soon will be making Bridge Creek available for side country skiing for folks that do not have backcountry ski gear. Dedicated ski patrollers have been checking the mostly north facing moderate slopes. Last January 5th we ended the day by joining Soldier Mountain Ski Resort patrollers to enjoy the fruits of many hours of work since last summer to make Bridge Creek side country available to Idaho winter recreationists!
Soldier Mountain Ski Patrollers getting ready to drop into Bridge Creek.
The snow pack from January 5th and January 20th have not significantly changed. Above 8000 feet we did not find weak layer that reacted to standard compression tests. This Sunday stability tests identified an interface at the 55 cm depth, that consistently reacts with sudden collapse (SC - Q1) with shoulder taps in excess of the standard compression test (35). These test results suggest that it is a GREAT idea to keep checking this interface before committing to ski slopes above 35 degrees, to make sure that the snowpack structure will not change such that hard scores become easy. Two weeks earlier (1/5/2013) results were hard but with Q3 results (CTHQ3 @ 60 cm).

Below 8000 feet, the snowpack at Soldier Mountain needs a good dosis of respect. During January 5th the snowpack surface layer below 8000 feet of elevation was heavily facetted and was caped by very beautiful surface hoar crystals.
BIG surface hoar crystal - no magnification required!
Surface Hoar crystals in my hand!
During last week snow deposition event, very large surface hoar crystals were buried at elevations below 8000 feet. Winds and snow transport above 8000 feet seem to have destroyed the SH layering since we were unable to find evidence of it.

The buried SH crystals below 8000 feet made their presence known repeatedly as we triggered significant whumpfs from SW to NE aspects at the 7000-7200 feet elevation. It was really fun to repeatedly experienced (10+ times) your surroundings drop about one centimeter. For the record, my ski partner disagreed with my FUN adjective, he suggested using the the "o-sh@t" descriptor.

At the elevations of concern (7000 feet) we observed a decent number of small natural slides resulting from wind loading. No such evidence was found above 8000 feet for the areas we ski toured.

My friends, even when the conditions are not optimum (deep face shots), and we have not seen a refresh on snow, get out and explore new touring areas. With some creativity and ingenuity you can find interesting touring alternatives with decent soft snow conditions waiting for skiers and riders. You can start by visiting Soldier Mountain Ski Resort.

The web link for the resort is included below for your convenience:

Soldier Mountain Ski Resort

By the way, this year Soldier Mountain Ski Resort became a non-profit organization. The new management team is reinventing the skiing experience at this awesome resort. Please sponsor this resort by visiting it.

I hope this posting with pics and beta will convince you that this area will provide you with great ski touring and soul fulfilling pow turns.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Bull Trout Lake Inlet Glades 1.13.2013

Yes - it was very cold today .... no no no ... it was FRIGID! Snow surface temps reached negative 24 Deg-C, and air temps hovered at negative 18 Deg-C during the warmest period of the day. I had to climb all the day with my warmest and gnarliest glove, and that I keep buried deep in my pack for cold/stormy days when skiing down. As I am writing now, I can still feel a weird feeling on my toes after coming out from their deep freeze.

But it was also a windless day with clear turquoise blue skies, 35 cms of light density POW at West, North, and East aspects. Slopes with a south component had a more creamy and thinner coating of snow at 25 cms in top of a melt freeze crust.
Morning sun at the Bull Trout Lake Glades - Summit.
I have been lucky to meet some incredible folks during avalanche courses. Today I was privileged to be skiing with friends that completed their Avalanche Level 2 course at Anthony Lakes backcountry last December 2012. These guys are passionate about the backcountry, and started their journey just last winter 2011-2012 during an Avalanche Level 1 course I was part of.
Ben skinning up.
Great Company - Ben and Josh

So, it was a breathtaking day, with great company, and the mountainous setting was spectacular. Skiing into Bull Trout Lake is a very special treat that made this outing a HOOT! The views to west of Bull Trout Lake are splendid, and the NW aspect slopes keep the snow in "primo" conditions.
Bull Trout Lake just before skiing down into the Lake flats.
The avalanche forecasts for the two Avalanche Centers servicing Central Idaho rated the avalanche danger as Considerable for this past Saturday. Considerable means that skier triggered avalanches are likely, and that natural avalanches are possible. The new snow in top of near surface facets and surface hoar formed during the clear and cold weather prevalent in Central Idaho called for a high dosis of prudence. But the shifting winds from the South and Northerly aspects also formed hefty windslabs at ridges and slopes above tree line in alpine terrain.

As the winds calmed down late Saturday, and the snowpack had time to adjust to the new load, we assumed an avalanche danger of Moderate for our outing. The terrain by Bull Trout Lake Inlet Lakes lack the elevation and configuration to be impacted by wind loading, but there are short steep slopes and steep rollovers that can be effective avalanche starting zones during periods of "persistent" slab instabilities due to buried near-surface facets (NSF) and surface hoar (SH). This type of instability is tricky, and it is just waiting for a trigger, and that is us - the BC skier or riders. Most skier triggered avalanches happen during Moderate avalanche danger. Moderate danger means that skier triggered avalanches are POSSIBLE, and natural avalanches are unlikely.

During periods of Moderate avalanche danger skier/rider triggered slides are usually initiated at a weak area, where a slab is sitting in top of weak layer in a slope with sufficient steepness. During periods of Moderate danger there can be a lack of feedback from collapses (whmpfs) or signs of avalanches (crowns & debris), which is compounded by human perception that similar slopes have been skied without triggering slides. Please - DO DILIGENCE to determine if a weak layer is buried below a layer of more cohesive snow (slab) at the slope you intend to ski!

And make sure to check the latest avalanche forecast for our regions:

Payette Avalanche Center Avalanche Advisory

Sawtooth Avalanche Center Avalanche Advisory

Back to ure tour - we vigorously searched for evidence of instability to no avail. This was surprising to us, particularly when the most recent snow precipitated on a layer of near-surface facets (NSF) and surface hoar (SH) formed during the two weeks of high pressure. No buried surface hoar or NSF at West or East aspects were identified at quick snow pits. The snowpack was right-side up, with Fist hard at the top 35 cm and progressively increasing to 1-Finger hardness up to a depth of one meter. An interface was identified at 60 cm, but it was unreactive.

At the elevation range we skied (8000 down to 7000 feet), there were no signs of wind transported snow, windslab formation, or slope cross-loading. Other snow and avalanche observations were unremarkable with no avalanches crowns or debris in the Bull Trout Lake inlet valley resulting from last week's storm.

Above, two pictures of ski terrain to the West of  Bull Trout Lake. Red Mountain can be seen above the open meadows skyline in the background.
Bull Trout Lake Inlet Glades can be accessed from the vehicle pull-out at the avalanche gate at Banner Summit proper.  There are glades facing east into I21 corridor that are skied by locals. In fact, these east facing slopes were recently tracked by a party of skiers.

Topo Map for the Bull Trout Inlet Glades.
The slope angles at the open meadows shots facing West are moderate (28-32 degrees), with some short pitches approaching the mid-30s. The ski runs are fairly open with mature trees and wide open spaces.

From the ridge above Bull Trout Lake we could see another party at Peak 9220. We did not see skiing activity at Copper Mountain, but during the ski out to the our rig we could see ski tracks at Copper's South face and that most likely were laid on Saturday (1.12.2013). The  pullout used by skiers to acces Copper Mountain was empty early Sunday afternoon, suggesting that Copper did not receive visitors this last Sunday.
South Face of Copper Mountain, Banner Summit
Before finishing this posting, I have to apologize for the lack of postings during the NEW 2013 year. The first two weeks of 2013 found me busy spending time with my two sons before they departed Idaho to continue their college adventures at California and Washington. It did not help that I was also participating in AIARE Avalanche instructor training for 3 days at Smiley Creek Lodge - Stanley. Early last week, during this course we had three half-days of ski touring out of Galena Pass. The course participants toured Mushroom Ridge, Avalanche Peak, and Titus Ridge. Meanwhile in between ski tours, Bryan and I learnt copious amounts of innovative techniques to improve the delivery of avalanche courses.

Below some pictures of the AIARE avalanche Level 1 instructor course at Stanley the first week of January 2013.

Last weekend, prior to leaving for Stanley for the AIARE ITC L1 course, we ski toured Soldier Mountain Peak 2 by Fairfield. Later this week I will post few pics, video clip, and narrative of the wonderful time we had skiing Soldier Mountain backcountry.