Monday, December 1, 2014

Mores Creek Summit Conditions for December 1st 2014

The cold front that moved through this weekend brought little snow to Mores Creek Summit (MCS). At all elevations and aspect a variable coating of graupel over a supportable crust layer. At wind protected locations as much as 5 cms of very skiable graupel surface, however the average above 7000 feet was about 2 cms.

Saturday was very windy,  but the firm snow conditions were good for ski touring over to Sunset Peak. Firm conditions allow to cover the relatively long distance to Sunset with ease. Temps were above zero deg-C in the morning, but as the front arrived late in the morning temps precipitously dropped below the freezing point at all elevations.
Approaching Sunset Peak Summit
 Sunday dawned with blue-bird skies, light winds from the NW, and colds temps. Morning temps at 6000 feet were -12 C, and at 8000 feet approached -20 C. These temps were sufficient to freeze any liquid water through the snowpack at all elevations and aspects. A 5-10 cm supportable crust was present at elevations and aspects at MCS that made ski touring fast. And the graupel provided an optimum surface for skin grip. The tip of the day was to avoid wind exposed crust, and skin anywhere with graupel for '4x4 like' uphill traction!
Snow Coverage at  6500 feet - East Aspect
Familiar ski runs above 7000 feet are ready for the winter with more than adequate coverage. The coverage below 6500 feet is poor, and only recommended for those that want to do hand-to-hand combat with MCS abundant brush. Until we get another 50 cms of new snow, I advise using Pilot and Sunset Peak road to access the ski terrain. Compared to the early 2013-2014 winter season, the shallow snowpack level (deeper than 50 cms) is found this year at 6500 feet, contrary to the 7000 feet from last winter.
Pilot Peak Bowl (top) and Almost Top of The World (bottom)
Views into the Sawtooths were spectacular, and the very popular ski destination at Banner Summit, Copper Mountain, was easy to spot. Snotel reports suggest decent amounts of snow at Banner Summit as well as the Trinities from this last storm.
Sequence of Copper Mountain from Pilot Peak
For those unfamiliar to area, the top of Pilot Peak provide some amenities rare at mountain summits. Take a look at the next picture.
Brush the snow off - and you its ready. It also comes with a GREAT view!
This weekend I noticed, for the first time that now there is cell phone reception at Sunset and Pilot Peak summits. It is flaky, but good enough for an emergency.
Pilot Peak Lookout (top) and views to East from Pilot Peak (bottom)
The snowpack at 8000 feet is 80-100 cm deep, with a suspicious crust-facet interface near the ground and several 'sandwiched' crusts with rounded facets at the top 30 cms.

I must admit that I was surprised by the stability tests. Evidence of instability were found at an alarming depth of 75 cm, where stability tests resulted in moderate trigger likelihood results with sudden planar propagation fracture failures.

The significant snow deposition event in top of the old October facets from a week ago,  as well as balmy temps during the last 72 hours prior to this weekend frontal passage did not altered the nature of an early facety snowpack. Frankly, I was hoping for a benign snowpack, without concerning interfaces. Well, so far we easily found evidence that the Boise mountains snowpack is far from a benign snowpack. This season early snowpack is going to require a lot of careful attention. It is December 1st, and the snowpack is getting set-up for deep instability.

The stability results for a NE slope at 8000 feet, 35 degrees in steepness, with little to no wind loading, are summarized next;
  • The only observed fracture plane failures occurred 75 cm down on a weak interface of 1-1.5mm advanced facets over crust.
  • CTHQ1(SC)
  • ECTP11Q1(SP)
  • PST20/100(END)
  • All structural deficiencies (Lemons) were present!
The top 20 cm of the snowpack with its burly crust and denser snow results in a 'bridging' effect over the steep snow covered terrain and makes the triggering of the 75 cm deeps instability less probable. However, this type of instability can result in an avalanche releasing to ground that will involve significant amounts of snow (depth and propagation). The combination of the large amounts of snow involved as well as rocks/stumps from ground cover exposed by release, result in a high consequences scenario for anyone taking a ride on it!

Based on MCS single test and snowpit, where evidence of instability was easily detected, it will be prudent to assume that similar conditions exist in the West Central Mountains. Conservative decision making is highly recommended. As time passes, and we get characterize snowpack layering distribution in our area, then we can relax and explore more steep terrain without deep instability structure.

Meanwhile, REMEMBER deep instabilities can become sensitive to triggering after a loading event. Weather forecasts for Central Idaho Mountains predicts 25 cms of new snow with moderate winds by Tuesday at elevations above 7000 feet. Notice that new snow and winds will result in loaded localized areas that will stress the snowpack, and releases at starting zones could have a decent chance of initiating avalanches to ground. Again, make use of conservative decision making during this period of transition from shallow snowpack to a mid winter snowpack.

A final note. Last year it was financially challenging for the Idaho City local businesses due to the late snow conditions. Think about leaving some dollars behind. All it takes is a quick stop, maybe at Trudy's for a once in a lifetime opportunity to have her huckleberry cheesecake with a very cold beer. Trudy makes the cheesecake herself, and the beer fridge is kept very cold. It is PRICELESS!
Completing snow field  blue book entries with dessert and a cold beer!
Enjoy this winter. I will be looking forward for a new style of posting coming soon to the MoresCreekSummit blog!


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.