Sunday, February 11, 2018

Tour of Memories - Snow surface Conditions update.

Yesterday I was delighted to tour MCS with Pedro. It has been a long while since the last time we glided on skis at the place where Pedro literally grew-up skinning and skiing. We have continued to ski tour in Colorado, but it is not the same when you are in the place where there are so many memories.
I still remember, when Pedro was 11, and he finally catches up with me at Freeman Peak, while I completed a quick snowpit, and he tells me "Papa, you got to ski down, Alan is in a big-big snowhole". It happens that my friend, new to the backcountry, had a binding failure, and had stepped out of the skis. The snow was bottomless and he sank to his waist and was utterly unable to get back on skis. I remember when some other time, I thought it was funny to dislodge a dry-loose slide of Diurnal NSF snow and bury Pedro to his chest ... and while I hysterically laughed, he just said ... 'very funny' with a sarcastic voice. So many memories. Some memories are reminders of life frailty, like when out of the blue, a large tree came down between me and my other son during a perfect pow day and zero wind.

At a relaxed pace, while we enjoyed each other company, we skinned along Pilot Peak road, all the way up to the Pilot Peak-Bear run intersection.  As we climbed together we recalled the many ski days we have done throughout the years at MCS. We wondered about out of the ordinary events, such as the avalanche that buried a lucky solo-tourer that was digged out by two snowmobilers that happen to see the slide on an innocent looking south aspect slope below Pilot Peak road, or another slide where Pedro and I saw entry tracks without exit tracks and how we decided to enter threatening terrain to search for a possible victim. We also recalled memories from many powder days, long tours to the West Glades, and the enjoyment of taking friends to our steep and deep shots.
Snowmobilers at Pilot Peak road - February 10th 2018.
The rain from last Sunday left its mark at all aspect and elevations. At lower elevations (6100-6600 feet), temperatures close to zero are favoring the formation of melt-freeze recrystallization "Near-surface" facets.  At mid-elevations (6600-7600) there is a supportable crust, with random pockets of breakable crust. By the way, this breakable crust is very efficient in reminding you that you are NOT an expert skier at all - regardless of what you think - it has a striking ego destroying capacity. Higher elevations have a variable snow surface, with a mix of windblown pow, surface hoar, and near-surface crystals above a rain crust.
Snowmobile family at Pilot Peak Summit
The day was cold, sunny, with moderate winds from the north. We only ran into a single backcountry skier, but there were plenty of snowmobilers and timber sleds touring the area. It helped a lot to have the Pilot Peak road groomed a few days ago by Greg Davis. The grooming on a very supportive layer of snow made it enjoyable for snowmobilers and skiers alike ... It was like skiing at a groomed run in a resort!

And ... of COURSE, we found great snow. That is why MCS is so special! If you try hard and never give up, there are ALWAYS pockets of amazing skiing at Mores Creek Summit. Check the video of Pedro enjoying sweet turns at Pilot Peak bowl, right below the Lookout.
PilotFeb10_2018 from Santiago Rodriguez on Vimeo.

After the rain and freeze events, the snowpack at MCS has gone into a deep sleep state, with no evidence of reactivity. The buried surface-hoar and basal facets were not impacted directly by the rain, but the extended warm period and rain introduced an outstanding amount of kinetic energy that drove the snowpack to an unusually early isothermal state. This was a topic of discussion during last Wednesday GEOS466-566 Avalanche and Snow Physics course taught at BSU this semester. Students contrasted pit profiles (hardness and temperatures) for last Sunday versus 3 weeks ago.

Once we get new loads of snow it is unlikely that the winter "deep instabilities" can become reactive again, and attention should be placed into the myriad of NSF and surface hoar currently at the snow surface.

Meanwhile, advanced surface facets and windblown snow at higher elevations are providing a surface that is making skiing fun. After last weekend rain, it was comforting to the soul to ski dry snow ...Yipee!
Pilot Peak Bowl
At the top of Pilot Peak, there is a BLM Weather station next to the lookout facilities. The precipitation bucket had a chunk of ice slammed into it. I carefully cleared the bucket. Do not attempt repeat what I did in the future since there are filters that need to be carefully relocated to guarantee its operation. PLEASE - PLEASE - PLEASE ... stay clear of the weather station!

Pilot Peak weather station. Data is available through Mesowest (University of Utah).

This weather station is critical for backcountry users (skiers and snowmobilers. THIS IS SERIOUS! Myself as well as many others, make LIFE and DEATH decisions based on it. It provides essential temperature and wind data that we use to track avalanche potential and make terrain travel risk decisions. Links for this weather station can be found in the blog 's right side.

During this winter there have been periods when the station has not reported data. There seem to be times when the data is not being transmitted, others when the data is transmitted but does not make it to Mesowest site, but it is available through NOAA. I have not been successful in identifying the weather station contact person. I will greatly appreciate if a blog reader knows the person responsible for the weather station and might get that person in contact with me. I would like to assist in making this so important weather station more reliable during the winter.

I also want to express my appreciation for backcountry users due diligence in staying clear of the interval snow boards and depth stick at MCS pass. THANKS!  The data is used to improve snow stability assessments.

Winter is not over - and - Winter is coming. You can finally learn about backcountry skiing at Mores Creek Summit, have somebody show you where to go skiing, all while you learn about avalanche rescue and/or safe touring in avalanche terrain. Check the course line-up for March 2018.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Commemorating 10 Years!

It has been 10 years since the FIRST posting at this BLOG. In January 10, 2008 I wrote the unedited text included below.

It has not been easy to be consistent. But the blog has endured. There are 150 posts, each dedicated to share tips, information, and mostly, the joy I get from MCS.

I have skied and toured many places around the world. I have been numerous times to the Alps, Pyrenees, Andes Ranges. I have explored the mountain of Oregon, Nevada, Wyomimg, California, and Colorado. I love skiing in the Sawtooths, Boulders, Pioneers, Soldier, Salmon River Mountains in Idaho. But after 25 years, Mores Creek Summit is home.

Thanks Bondo, you were the first person to comment in the blog - you have been a great supporter! Thanks JT, Lanza, Biggs, Joel, Jim C., Eric S., James M., and many others. There is one other special person that deserves the most credit ... Pedro Rodriguez ... he kept steady the bearings of MCS blog, and his advise and encouragement have serve well our community of backcountry skiers/riders, snowshoers, and snowmobilers that relish and love Mores Creek Summit.


First MCS Blog Posting

The creation of this blog is the result of conversations with John Taggart (Idaho-NSP Avalanche Educator) and Janet Kellam (Sun Valley Avalanche Forecaster and President of the American Avalanche Association) during the National Avalanche School - 2007. We felt that the Mores Creek Summit backcountry user community would greatly benefit from a forum where information about snow conditions can be shared.

The Mores Creek Summit is a popular winter recreation area with fabulous terrain and incredibly varied winter touring opportunities. It is indeed a precious gem. I had been skiing there for 15 years, and it is where my kids developed their backcountry skills while skiing at Freeman and Pilot Peaks. For this reason this area very special to me.

During the last few years the winter visitors to Mores Creek Summit has dramatically increase. Information about snow conditions was shared by word of mouth. But that is not adequate anymore, and it is my hope that this blog could serve as a tool to better share snow conditions, as well as allow for the local backcountry community to network, share snow stability assestments, and make friends.

I think it will be a good idea to start this blog by inquiring about potential names for the most popular ski runs. In the spirit of initiating the conversation I include below a topo map with names used by my sons, acquaintances and myself. I have NO idea how we will reach concensus - but we will figure it out together as we go forward.

The next posting (this weekend) will have the first snow assestment to be posted on this blog. Snow assestment for the early season is available - but the NEW snow from the 1/7 thru 1/11 - makes the pre-1/7 data less valuable. Let me know if there is interest on it and I will be more than happy to post it.

One final note: In order improve communications it is strongly suggested that we follow the guidelines and conventions from Snow, Weather, and Avalanches: Observational Guidelines for Avalanche Programs in the Unites States.

I recommend purchasing the document at: or printing it from the following link:

Furthermore, I will be sharing snow assestmant data based on the Snow Pit Technologies " Snow and Avalanche Field Book", also known as the BLUE book. The field notebook can be acquire at:


Wednesday, February 7, 2018

State of MCS Snowpack - February 7th

How to describe this most unusual winter? Twelve days ago, on a stormy and snowy Saturday, we were enjoying fantastic pow skiing.
Avalanche Science Level 1 course - Saturday, January 27th
With the new snow, a warm front arrived at the area Saturday night. The next day, Sunday, January 28 dawned with warm snow on top of the cold snow. The wet new snow resulted in difficult skinning conditions with globs of dry cold snow sticking to the skins [I promised myself to never forget having glide wax, somehow my Chilean beeswax slipped out of my pack]. By Monday morning cooler temps resulted in a widespread thick crust at Mores Creek Summit. Last week temperatures have been mild, mostly at or above the freezing point. Check SNOTEL chart for temps and Snow Depth for MCS included below. These temperatures have contributed to the dramatic settlement and densification of the snowpack at all elevations.

MCS Snotel Data for the last 14 days
Last Saturday we got lucky and rain skipped MCS.  The skiing conditions were instructional - a hefty breakable crust that elicited thoughts about life and death at every turn. All in all, I had a great time with BSU students during a Geoscience Avalanche and Snow Physics field day at Pilot Peak. The students were able to compare Saturday's isothermal snowpack with the snowpack from January 13 when they last visited Mores Creek Summit area. The snowpack back then showed evidence of instabilities and was characterized by its cold content and temperature gradients that produced a gamut of facet crystals.
BSU GEOS466/566 (Avalanche and Snow Physics) Field Day - February 3rd.
Not only did the GEOS466/566 class did awesome snow science, but they also successfully completed their multiple avalanche victim rescue simulations. In a few weeks, they will be participating in a multi-day science field camp at Soldier Mountain Yurt, where scientific instrumentation will be used to survey and characterize snow properties.

Last Sunday the weather was not generous. It rained most of the day at Mores Creek Summit! For a short time above 7400 feet, it precipitated snow, but it changed into rain later in the afternoon. But we put a good face and completed an Avalanche Science 1-day Avalanche Rescue course. And I was impressed by the few snowmobilers that ventured out in such conditions.

Sunday rain did not result in wet loose instabilities. The surface crust developed during the last two weeks enabled "lateral flow" of liquid water. Lateral flow is when liquid water instead of percolating through the snowpack flows "laterally", between layers within in the snowpack. Sunday's liquid water lateral flow inhibited the wetting of the snow within the snowpack and instead facilitated draining the liquid water into creeks. The bad news is that water is not stored in the snowpack, which is what water managers want - 😱.

The two concerning structures within MCS snowpack; buried layer of fused surface hoar and the deeply buried early season facet/crust did not show evidence of reactivity. It is likely that we might not have to worried about these layers anymore. And what we need next is MORE snow precipitation in the top of the existing snowpack. The coverage above 7000 feet is great, with lower levations still looking brushy.
Fused Surface Hoar Layer buried at MCS
Moving into another most important topic ... I have been experimenting with various avalanche course formats. It is true that the current demotivating snow conditions do not compel us to seek avalanche education, resulting in low demand for avalanche education at MCS. The snow conditions at MCS above 7000 feet exceeds the depth from most locations in Utah and Colorado. During a professional course I was teaching in Utah, snow depths averaged 80 cm at 9000 feet.
Shallow snowpack during Bridge Course in Utah - 9000 feet, February 2.
But it is unlikely that is the whole story, yes the courses seem expensive but I failed to explain the concept behind the $825-course fees - to provide the best avalanche education possible close to Boise!

The avalanche courses I am offering at MCS are priced higher in order to offer a more intimate learning environment and limit course sizes to six or fewer participants. The per student fee by AIARE, the AIARE providers fees, Idaho Outfitters and Guide Licence fees, USDA-USFA Special Use permit fees, Classroom at Idaho City Visitor's Center, and insurance are amortized with much fewer students. In addition, I packed two courses into one; an "AIARE Companion rescue" and "AIRE Level 1/2" that further increased course costs.
Avalanche Science Headquarter at Idaho City Visitor's Center
Moving forward - Earlier this week I updated the line-up of Avalanche Science courses. All avalanche course fees were reduced.
2-Day Intro to Backcountry and Companion rescue: $400
3-Day Avalanche Level 1: $600
3-Day Avalanche Level 2: $650
1-Day Companion Rescue Course: $200
The number of participants for these courses continues to be limited to a maximum of six. I firmly believe this is essential to be able to provide the best possible avalanche courses in the USA and internationally. In addition, it is fundamental to have a lot of touring and skiing/riding time, particularly with the fabulous skiing available at MCS. The courses will continue to include the AAA certified Instructor certification as well as the AIARE Diploma.
AAA Certification
In order to reduce Avalanche Science course fees, the Companion Rescue will not be bundled anymore with Level 1 or Level 2 courses. The science grade snow kit will not be included. Participants can purchase a snow kit during the courses.

At Avalanche Science Courses at MCS, you will find the line-up of courses for March. There is a new offering Boise folks have bee asking about; a 2-day weekend introduction course. This NEW course includes the AIARE Companion Rescue component.

There are two Avalanche Level courses dedicated to specific demographics. An AIARE Level 1 course for Women and another for Young Adults (18-24 year old).  The AIARE Level 2 has been designed with the PRO1 progression in mind. This course will prepare you to pass the Bridge Course, that will convert this Level 2 into a PRO1 certification.

Friends, visit AVYSCIENCE.COM. I will appreciate if you have any feedback, suggestion, or other courses you will like to see us provide to our community of winter backcountry recreationists.