Monday, December 23, 2013

Anthony Lakes - Good turns on a shaky snowpack

The next video best describes snowpack conditions at Anthony Lakes:

ECTP at Anthony Lakes July 22nd from Santiago Rodriguez on Vimeo.
Pedro demonstrating ECTP at Anthony Lakes.

Anthony Lakes has always been an option for Boise skiers. Not a bad drive, and just 20 minutes longer than driving to Banner Summit from Boise.

The ski touring at Anthony Lakes possibilities are many. Please refer to the next link for a really nice resource. Caltopo is an incredibly helpful planning tool with its signature feature where slope angles are colored in the topo map. CalTopo very user friendly interface makes easy to add UTM lines, 40' contour lines to the topo map, among other cool features,  as well as to print or save maps.,-118.2343&z=15&b=t&a=c,sg

The next image captures the ski tour we did today in a blue trace, but also shows the interface of CalTopo. Please if you use this tool in a regular based send a 'Thank You' note to the Matt Jacobs, owner of the site or better ... make a tax-deductible donation to Bay Area Mountain Rescue via

Skiing last Saturday at Mores Creek Summit was fun, but Pedro and I wanted ... more snow, and Anthony hardly ever fails to provide the goods. Sunday was not the exception.
Pedro and Jesse preparing for the first run.
The backcountry was covered by a recent coating of  30 cm of creamy and somewhat heavy snow that felt like 12% dense. A combination of factors confabulated to densify the snow throughout the day; moderate winds from the west, heavy moist fog, and temps  hovering near the zero degrees celsius for most of the day. But we rejoiced in not having to worry too much about what lies below the snow. The snowpack depth was around 1.2 meters. Although, we should never forget that we are in the mountains and Anthony is a granite garden, thus we still had occasional contacts with buried boulders.

Today we had a guest with us, Jesse, on his second outing to the backcountry, but first time on a winter ski tour. We always enjoy introducing the winter wonderland to those willing to explore.
Jessy testing his new ski touring gear; splitboard, pack, layering ....
As noted earlier by the video, conditions were unstable. Stability test early in the day produced two CTE-Q1(SP), a CTM-Q1(SC), and ECTP11-Q1(SC). All failures were observed at 45 cms below the snow surface, where a 2 cm layer of facets undermined a fragile decomposing crust interface . The test slope had a SW aspect at 28 degrees test slope at 8100 feet. Below the 45 there was another fragile crust layer also undermined by another even thinner facet layer. The rest of the snowpack was facetty with various crust layer in between.

While skinning up we had numerous whumpfs, where we also remotely triggered a very small avalanche in a steep roll-over. But based on earlier stability results we were only skiing gentle slopes with slope angles under 30 degrees.
Notice the fractures (cracks) and small avi.
Instability was also present at north aspects. On our way back to the car we approached a ridge with North aspect slopes. At Poster Ridge we remotely triggered a collapse with cracks spider webbing across the slope but the slope did not slide.

Mores Creek Summit has a similar structure of fragile crust  layers undermined by well developed facets, but it lacks the 45 cm of snow loading present at Anthony Lakes. And as Pedro stated earlier in Sunday during our drive to Anthony Lakes after observing road cuts with avalanche fractures, the faceting of old snow after weeks of zero precipitation was a regional issue. We should not be surprised to observe similar problems across central Idaho.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Mores Creek Summit Blog, back at it again!

After months of no activity at Mores Creek Summit blog, we resume our work today. And .... welcome to this year backcountry ski season!

Saturday December 21st, was a sunny day, and a delightful day to be out. After spending the Austral winter in Argentina and Chile, and arriving late to School in September, I was too busy with school and research snow work to be  able to make it to Idaho's backcountry until after the end of school this last Friday.
300 feet above the road, the forest starts to look wintery!
The day started without wind, but at around 6500 feet the snow surface showed clear signs of a significant north wind event during or immediately after Friday's storm. As I continue to gain elevation, the wind scouring/erosion, wind crust, and transport became more pronounced. Later in the day the wind picked up again, and continue to make surface snow conditions less conducive to good riding. Air temperatures remained between -5 Deg C in the morning and up to -2 Deg C in the afternoon.
Almost Top of the world ... the falling snow is a random google effect that just introduced itself.
It was kind of a short day-had to be early back to Boise to pick my son Pedro at the airport. Time was short but I managed to do four runs at each; Top of The World, Almost Top of The World, a quicky line between The Knob and The Summit Glades, to finish the day early with a run from the top of the Summit Creek Glades down to Summit Creek.

There is a supportive crust all the way down to 6000 feet,. With very careful route selection, it is possible to ski down to Summit creek and exit to the road, with some occasional bushwhacking. Climbing up the snowmobile road to gain access to Pilot Peak backcountry skiing is optimal, but I managed to climb up the second ridge to the north of Mores Creek Summit proper without too much difficulty. Again thanks to the supportable crust. This does not mean that the snowpack is NOT shallow, it is boney!. North and Northeast aspects above 7000 feet have 80 cm or so of snow, but East and Southeast aspects have only 50 cms of snow!
Top of The World Snowpack at 7800 feet, 50 cm thick.
The snowpack was not only shallow at all locations, but at all locations there are three distinctive crust layers with a layer of well developed facet below the crust. the top two layers failed easily during compression tests, and are going to be a problem once they are loaded during next storm. The top layers were too shallow to pose a problem to skier at Mores Creek Summit today.

In the morning two other backcountry skiers shared turns with me at Top of the world. Inspection of the picture below shows the snowpit near the top next to my tracks, at a location with 36 degrees in steepness. A black and white picture of the snowpit is shown above.
Top of The World
There were fun skiing, but snow surface conditions were highly variable. Most of the skiing was above a supportable crust covered with little snow to up to 10 cms. At wind affected slopes, a crust made skiing instructional. Occasionally above 7000 feet at north aspects the crust was not supportable and ski penetrated through most of the snowpack. I avoided such locations to protect my skis from damage.

Between The Knob and Summit Glades.

Tomorrow I will be out again, and will be sharing obs for a different location in Central Idaho.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Doug Abromait - Adios mi amigo!

Doug Abromait - Adios mi amigo!

It is darn difficult to reconcile how unsettle my heart is after learning about Doug’s passing away. Doug pass away this past Saturday, while mountain biking in the wonderful mountains of Central Idaho.

Doug passion for the mountainous outdoors and the pursue of avalanche science was contagious. He was a role model, a mentor to many of us, and an uncharacteristically approachable leader.

During this last year of transition I have feverishly embraced activities that sooth my soul such as enjoying time with family and friends, hanging around with fun seeking folks, doing what I love - Exploring the outdoors and the mysteries of Science. I observed the same fervor from Doug ... it was necessary example for me!

During the last 6 years, I enjoyed quality time with Doug during the Fall sessions of the National Avalanche School. The first time I attended NAS Phase 1 and 2, I was fortunate to be one of Doug’s apprentices. NAS Phase 2 at Jackson Hole with Doug, showcased him as an extremely effective and inspiring lead instructor. It was hard not to want be part of one Doug legacies, The NAtional Avalanche School, thus subsequent NAS saw me as one of Doug’s ‘helpers’ when I continued participate as a volunteer instructor.

I learn so much from Doug about the confluence of snow science and human behavior while in avalanche terrain. But he reached higher, he was more ...,  Doug never lost an opportunity to mentor others ... and that is rare in a world where most folks are busy with family and personal commitments. I will honor Doug’s memory by following his example; to be available and supportive of individuals in need of mentorship.

Doug, I will miss your jokes, your big smile, your positive attitude, and your FUN seeking spirit. And remember .... How lucky we are both to get more face shots that anybody else ... being short in deep pow country is an asset!

In honor of Doug, next you will find pictures of some of his best friends teaching during NAS, one of his enduring legacies:

Sunday, February 3, 2013

MCS Snow Conditions - 2.2.2013

January 2013 has not been generous to Mores Creek Summit (MCS). The winter season at MCS started with a very healthy snowpack above 7400 feet but the coverage below 7000 feet have been poor. January 28-29th winter storm helped to get the snowpack depth to the 40 inch average at the MCS snotel level, but that is not sufficient to open many favorites ski lines at lower elevations.

Mores Creek Summit SNOTEL - January 2013
The good news is that the recent snow made the access to Freeman, Sunset, and Pilot from lower elevation pull-outs friendlier to skinning, and the hand-to-hand combat with brush have somewhat ameliorated.

Thus, Saturday I ski toured Freeman for the first time of the season. Our party soon realized that all aspects of Freeman have been affected by the warm weather and strong solar radiation of the last few days. We found a very warm and wet snowpack at all slopes exposed to the sun rays, and at more northeasterly aspects a challenging melt-freeze crust layer.

Our goal for the day was to ski Freeman West Glades, a series of northerly aspects slopes that always offer good skiing even in the warmest of days. But, we naively thought that we could sneak a single pow run from the top of Freeman through its steeper NE Chutes. We were wrong, the upper part of Freeman was a combination of dry snow for 2-3 turns and moist sticky wet bog the next 4-6 turns. And the ratio of good to bad turns were not even either - 3 good turns for every 6 bad turns! :(

At the steeper more protected chutes 600 feet lower, we found reliable soft turns again, but we learnt our lesson - stop wasting time with any slopes that have seen ANY sun, and head over to Freeman West Glades as soon as possible.

Meanwhile - What did we learn about the snowpack? At 7500 feet of elevation in a NE aspect slope with a steepness of 34 degree, the snowpack produced the following results:
  • ECTP25Q1 (SC and SP) 60 cm down at a "Near-surface facet" (NSF) layer capped by a thin layer of Surface Hoar (SH)
  • CTMQ1 (SC) 60 cm down at NSF/SH layer - 3 times
Every one of the compression tests exhibited sudden collapses (SC), whereas the extended column popped-out with a combination of sudden collapse and sudden planar. 

The ECT propagation failure with a 60 cm slab above a layer of surface hoar was a reminder that the snowpack in our area needs to be evaluated before committing to steep slopes. A week ago I observed a similar surface hoar/near surface facet layer structure buried 45 cm below the snow surface at Copper Mountain - Banner summit.

A pretty significant Wumpf (snowpack collapse) at 8000 feet was also experienced by our party as we skinned up. The snowpack was clearly sending a message - stay off steep terrain, particularly where significant warming is going on!

The warm temps of this weekend will have a net positive effect in the rounding and sintering of buried facet crystals formed during the extended dry period and now buried by new snow. But in the short term, the snowpack is being stressed by the heat induced creep, particularly in steep slopes affected by solar warming and/or where free water is available to permeate through its layers.

The second half of the day, we ski toured Freeman's West Glades. The skiing was excellent at slopes with sheltered North to North West aspects, and they presented us with the mean to escape the annoying crust layers and wet snow found at Freeman's east, south, and west aspects, and make invigorating turns at cold fluffy snow.

As we ventured into the West Glades, we were aware of another party at Freeman with similar plans. We did not run into them but we benefited from one of their uphill tracks as we climbed out of the west glades bottom at the 6400-6600 feet level. And what a steep uphill trail it was, as the party skinned straight up in their downhill tracks.

Below a link for the topo maps of Freeman West Glades. The "Hillmap" website that facilitated this topo map, is a a very good resource for Ski Trips planning. Feel free to play with the "hill map slope analysis" tool - it is very cool! Notice that there are various selectable topo map versions.

Hill map topo - Link for Freeman West Glades

For your convenience a topo map view of the area we toured is included below.
Topo Map of Freeman West Glades
Late in the afternoon, as we skied back into I21, the conditions challenged our skills to find non-crusty snow. We succeeded to a large extent - until we reached the 7000 feet in the vicinity of Mores Creek headwaters below Freeman ridge slopes, where we had to switch to the emergency use of "Stem Christie ski turns". We were relived and joyful when we reached the road, and somebody yelled "Land - we are safe now!".

After a day of temps in excess of 0 Deg-C, we were ready to make a stop at Idaho City, grab the saltiest bag of chips and get a black porter beer. No other place is more qualified than Donnas Place.

Donnas Place Link

After many years of making stops at Donnas Place, I had the chance of meeting Skip. Skip is the owner of Donnas Place, and a very personable and funny individual. And as usual, I would like to encourage skiers to bring business to Idaho City after having fun in their backyard. Stop by Donnas and say to Skip, or stop Trudy's and delight yourself with a most wonderful homemade pie, or visit the folks at The Gold Mine for the most fantastic finger steaks in the Boise watershed!

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.