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.