Monday, March 19, 2018

Life is good with POW turns and face-shots!

MCS20189318full from Santiago Rodriguez on Vimeo.

I am sorry to do this again ... start a blog with a video and no words ... However, there are no words to describe the current conditions. Words like "Superb" or "Awesome" or "Fantastic" seems so lacking, thus I decided to leave it to your imagination.

Yesterday was another sweet day of pow skiing. It was the last day of another Avalanche Science's (AVYSCIENCE.COM) Level 1 course. After a short classroom session at Idaho City's Visitor Center's developing a tour plan, we left for MCS pass.

A critical outcome of Level 1 course is for participants to be able to able to generate a local avalanche forecast and integrate information from the weather, snowpack, and prior snow/Avalanche/weather observations into a ski touring plan. Below an example of what Paul and I generated Sunday morning before going skiing.
Avalanche Level 1 participants learn to prepare a plan for ski touring prior to arriving at the mountain!
Our original plan was to return to where we skied the prior day (Summit Creek Glades) but IDT did not clear the 1st pull-out north of the MCS pass, thus we decided to change plans and ski Freeman Peak.

We followed a track from another party until we got to a chocking point at Mores Creek, where it is prudent to cross the creek and avoid crossing below an avalanche path facing a southwest aspect. We crossed the track and started cutting a new track in a more reasonable location. After snapping a picture of the party uphill track crossing the avalanche path, where two storm releases were covered by new snow but still visible, I lost my camera in the deep snow. Bummer! If anybody finds the black Canon point and shoot camera, PLEASE contact me (contact info at

Evidence of instability was hard to find. A friend reported a human trigger soft slab mid-slope at Freeman on Saturday at an NNE aspect steep slope (40 degrees) at approximately 7000 feet in elevation. We visited the location but the release has been covered by new snow. Stability test at the location revealed a weak layer of graupel buried at 45 cms. The layer was visible as a fragile thin layer 5 cms above last week rain crust. Compression tests are ineffective in soft snow conditions detecting fracture failures. Easy tilt test results suggested that this layer should be carefully evaluated. This layer failed the PST as well as an experimental CPST (horizontal PST) - PST 45/100 (END)! Ski cuts at various steep slopes did not produce any evidence of reactivity. We treated this "storm slab" problem as a "stubborn" with regard to trigger likelihood. This is typical of graupel weak layers, and we approached steep terrain with care.

Winter wonderland!
We skied northeast, deep north, and southeast aspect slopes, with the goal of getting familiar with the snowpack development at the various aspects, one of the objectives of the avi course.
Freeman Southeast aspect - headwaters of the 12-mile creek.
Paul (Avi course participant) with Freeman's "Rando Ridge" in the background.
Lots of NE aspect skiing at Freeman's southeast ridge, an area that gets very few visits.
I have thoroughly enjoyed having avalanche courses at MCS. At the same time, it has been bittersweet. During the last two weeks, It is hard to ignore how avalanche education might greatly improve skin tracks and downhill movement of skiers of Boise Backcountry riders.

I have observed numerous instances of mistakes cutting an uphill track that will negate safe uphill travel. And the lack of best practices during skiing is outstanding - with folks skiing above each other at slopes with 30 degrees or more in steepness. I have to wonder if they internalize that they are traveling in avalanche terrain and that MCS does indeed have serious avalanche terrain. I include a video of January 12 avalanche cycle at MCS.

Pilot Jan 12 2018 from Santiago Rodriguez on Vimeo.

Meanwhile, there is very little effort by the some of the Boise backcountry community in becoming aware of the snowpack structure below the skis. And I am not insinuating digging pits - that will be preposterous - but I did not see any parties during this weekend doing quick hand-pits or opportunistic ski cuts in their uphill ski tracks. What a missed opportunity to learn about a snowpack when it was heavily stressed by 50 cms of NEW snow!

Statistics from this blog suggest that there is a large community interested in ski touring at MCS. But only a handfull are really taking advantage of the courses being offered at MCS!
Statistics for MCS - Idaho readers, March 2018
The lack of participation in Avalanche Science courses is confusing at best. There is plenty of snow at MCS and the avalanche courses are close to Boise. It only takes 20 minutes from the Idaho City classroom to the trailhead, and learning is maximized by keeping class size small (a goal of 4-6 participants). Besides, the field classroom is primed with exceptional condition conducive to learning with the presence of storm slab, persistent slab, wind slabs, and dry-loose avalanche conditions - What is going on?

I have to wonder if the existence if this blog is a barrier to avalanche education. Am I doing a disservice to the community by posting updates that decrease a perceived need for avalanche education? I will be thinking hard about this question and will be considering changes to the style, content, and available resources at MCS blog.