January 31, 2011

Not Recommended - CSP

Chugach State Park snow was very thin, stale and hammered by foot traffic.  Fine for hiking, but skiing was sketchy.  Falling with any speed would likely yield abrasions and blood.  But...

It's presently snowing with snow in the forecast for the next three days!  AY-OH!

January 30, 2011

Pete's Lipps & Summit Lake Avalanche

Backcountry skiing in Chugach National Forest is a dream that turned into a nightmare for four hapless skiers in the Summit Lake country.  Kevin Wright, a forecaster at the Chugach National Forest Glacier Ranger District, reported Butch Mountain as the sad scene involving a helicopter rescue of the four skiers, some with broken bones.  Wright's report stated the slide started well above the four as they ascended Butch Mountain. 

Butch is steep.  Above Lower Summit Lake, it rises 2500 feet at an average 28-degree angle with localized angles in the mid-30's to 40's with clear avalanche chutes that many have safely skied without incident.  The slide that ripped above the four fellows yesterday is a cruel reminder of the risks of backcountry skiing.  Snow science and avalanche hazard reporting can mitigate, but the perfect slope angle for skiing coincides with the perfect slope angles for avalanches and these slopes tempt us to take risk.
Breezy Ridge
Avalanche risk was at the center of our conversation as AKRobb, Dr. Snow, Zach and yours truly contemplated Pete's North southerly 38-degree slope.  We started with a Lipps lap, and we crossed Spokane Creek above its canyon to ski Pete's North.  Wind was blowing hard on Lipps and Pete's N ridgelines and loading the southerly slopes.  Winds recorded on Sunburst averaged 25 mph with gusts to 40.  After some discussion, we opted against testing Pete's N 38-degree slope, and returned to the mellower slopes down valley.  Would the steeper slope have avalanched had we skied it?  We'll never know.

Pete's Steeps Wait to Ski Another Day
Temperatures on Lipps/Pete's ranged from the high to low 20's from the 800-ft road elevation up to the 3500-ft ridgelines.  Snow was sugary with a thin film of crust.  Skiing was good, not great.  The forested elevations of Pete's N were extremely crunchy and slide slipping was necessary in few places after we milked the very last bit of Pete's glades. 
Dr. Snow's Diagnosis:  Powder Fever
All photos by AKRobb

January 23, 2011

Change of Direction

Pyramid looked so good in the sunshine yesterday, but as we peered into a black hole at the end of Turnagain Arm, we questioned the wisdom of our decision of its pursuit.  The 40 mph gusts on Sunburst at 7 a.m. with an increasing trend disuaded DP and yours truly from pursuing Pyramid on this day. 

Reversing our decision and our track toward Pyramid, we turned around at Beluga Point and headed toward Hatcher Pass where the anemometer on Marmot indicated only 20 mph gusts.  Thank goodness for wireless internet via cell phone - it provided the key information in our decision to turn and run from the big storm.

You can run, but you cannot hide from a storm like this one.  Though it was less intense than the peak 78 mph midday gusts recorded on Sunburst, the wind blew all day on 4068 and Govt Peak gradually increasing over the course of the day, but there was a fresh 4-6" since Geno and I visited on Friday, 21-Jan that remained relatively untouched below the brushline.  Skies were grey.  Temperatures were in the 20's.

We heard the snow settle in a few places on the southeast-facing slopes southwest of 4068, and noticed some small natural releases near the bottom of the valley at wind lips just above the creek, but stable snow with good skiing on the SE-facing slopes.  The wind on "Frostbite" was blew all day out of the south, and loaded the north-facing lee with soft slabs that ski cut with crowns up to 2 feet thick and run-outs of hundreds of vertical feet.

January 22, 2011

Binding Blues

Eddies alpine bowl was stable enough today with a few inches on a hard base, sloughy.  SRJesse, J-rock and yours truly made our way from the lower parking pull out up to Eddies in nearly perfect winter weather, mid 20's, no wind, good visibility.  It all vanished at Eddies peak.

The alpine wind picked up and blew, the visibility declined.  The longer we stayed, the harder it blew, it seemed.  One of J-rock's heel bindings refused to cooperate; it just wouldn't click into his heel.  We worked on it with the wind blowing on the summit ridge until our hands were frozen.  With frozen hands, Jon freed his mind and rode the summit bowl semi-free heeled with one heel properly clicked in and the other free. 

"Free the heel, free the mind" probably wasn't Jon's first thought.  We tried to adjust the binding again, down below the alpine bowl out of most of the wind, but it just wasn't happening.  Jon surmised that his Quiver Killer mount in the morning before our trip was one screw pattern too far back.

The summit bowl had 4-6" new snow on a hard base.  Middle elevations had deeper snow with a sublimely soft base.  The lower mountain forest had the typical frozen snow bomb crust.  Ingram Creek had nice fords, and the slog in/out was quite pleasant with a couple of inches fresh, fast snow.

January 21, 2011

Turning and Touring in the Talkeetnas

Geno rallied the two-man team.  Thanks to the report at HatchYourTrax, we decided to try the Talkeetnas.  We skinned up toward Government Peak in flat light before sun up, encouraged by the 4 fresh inches on the lower mountain.  We found a rain crust above the brush line with variable strength.
Visibility improved late in the morning and we enjoyed the funky snow much more on lap 2 in good light.  The snow looks better in the photos than it felt.  We found the best snow on the front face with thicker and stronger rain crust back on 4068.
Front Face
The tour over to 4068 from Govt Peak front side was a beautiful trip, but 4068's snow was trickier with a thicker crust. 
From 4068, Backside of the Front Side
The crust was absent below the brush line, and there was no evidence of wind on the new snow up high (wind had worked the underlying base.)  The top layer was like rain crust with the cold snow below the crust. 

January 12, 2011

Silver Star - Vernon, BC

Exhausted after skiing and then driving across Monashee Pass to Silver Star, near Vernon, BC, I rolled in at 9 p.m. and hit the rack at Silver Star above Vernon, BC.  It was a both-hands-on-the-wheel drive from Nakusp, snowy and slick on a windy Highway 6. With it snowing at bed time, I dreamed of powder.

Dreams come true.  I awoke to 16" fresh, dry Okanagan powder!  Following some locals, we had several nice laps with nearly continuous face shots on the front side while the good patrollers worked on getting the backside open.  The faceshotfest contined as the backside lived up to its name:  Powder Express. 

After a morning of fresh snow without lift lines, I had to pack up and return home.  BC had some terrific snow over the past couple of weeks, and Silver Star continued the trend.  Spending more time exploring Silver Star is part of the plan; back/side country potential is intriguing, and its location is perfect for powder circuit trips kicking off from Kelowna's airport.

January 11, 2011

Back to Nakusp

Thanks to my buddies and friendly folks at CMH Kootenay in Nakusp, yours truly picked up another heli-day after some guys dropped out of their session.  It was great to go back and ski epic terraine with good conditions, a great group of skiers and excellent guides.  Starting with 9 skiers, 5 dropped out midday and our afternoon was incredible with only 4 strong guests and 2 guides.  Lead guide Patrick was truly exceptional; he set great lines, put us on the sweet snow and gave us lots of freedom.  This afternoon was very clearly the best ski session I've experienced in my life time, thanks to Pat and the group.  We racked up a lot of vertical, something around 31000 ft of the untracked experience.

Doc showed his bases all day

Patrick Not in Front
The guide almost always skis first, but with a small group that understood the line, Patrick let us go first.  His tracks leave the snow often, but I was rarely in a position to see it.
Skiing with Patrick was just fun.  He clearly defines the line, skis long pitches, and skis FAST.
Take a Bow, Patrick!

January 10, 2011

Illecillewaet Redux

Being invested in the uptrack somehow made the return to Illecillewaet more appealing than the dozens of other Rogers Pass options documented in the official guide.  Thanks to Gordon and friends leading me there, having some knowledge of an area is good when travelling solo.  Greeted with clear skies and low temperatures, yours truly trudged up Illecillewaet with frozen eyelashes and a little worry. 

Mt. Sir Donald's Morning Plumes
Worrying about the plumes blowing off Mt Sir Donald.  Would the windchill be tolerable?  Would yesterday's smokey fluff be transformed by the wind into deadly unstable slabs?  Would the wind render the fluff into breakable crust?  The positive answer to all the worrisome questions was:  no.

Later in the Day:  Clear and Calm
Following the same track as yesterday, but with much better visibility, I reached Lookout Col early enough to make a few laps up high before descending the Great Glacier Trail.  Yesterday's trailbreaking didn't go to waste (thanks, Ken & Gord!), though a few spots were totally blown in. 

Lookout Mountain, Rogers Pass, BC
The difference in comfort between the shade and sun was amazing.  The shade was just tolerable, and the sunny side seemed balmy.  Needed sunglasses, even in early January.

The scale of Rogers Pass is immense.  I saw three other skiers on the uptrack, but they diverged and crossed the basin to ascend the Illecillewaet Glacier.  Their tracks are barely visible on the 'calm' photo of Mt. Sir Donald, above.  It was a 2-hour trip for the 3 young men to make their way across the basin.

Mt Sir Donald towered 3000 ft plus above my high point for the day.

Vantage of Grizzly Mtn, Shoulder, Teddy Bear Trees, & Glacier Park Lodge

Lookout Col backside down to Alsukan Trail was tempting, maybe next trip.

January 9, 2011

Illecillewaet at Rogers Pass

Kindred spirit Calgarians let me tag along again today on the skin track up the Sir Donald Trail to the Illecillewaet River headwaters above Rogers Pass, British Columbia.  What a wonderful place with an immense scale and fabulous snow! 

We enjoyed an established skin track well up toward Lookout Pass, and also enjoyed the solitude of having the entire basin to ourselves all day.  Snow was deep and trail breaking was slow going, but well worth the effort.  The men teamed up to push the trail a lot further up, almost to the pass.  Maybe tomorrow, I'll return and break a little more.
Ken's Close Up - always in perfect balance



After ascending the Sir Donald Trail and then diverging toward the pass just below Lookout Mountain, we skied down a terrific line to the Great Glacier Trail, and followed it to the flat country down low.  Gord navigated from the Great Glacier Trail back to the Sir Donald Trail for a return safe and sound.  Wow, what a day! 
Mt. Sir Donald

Middle of the Illecillewaet Basin toward Skiers' Left

Great Glacier Trail

It was just great skiing with the lovely Calgarians, wonderful folks.  They were so kind to set up the Rogers Pass weekend and showed yours truly some truly great touring.

January 8, 2011

Rogers Pass

The Trans-Canada Highway and Canadian Pacific Railway cross the magnificent country of Canada at a mountain pass named for Major A. B. Rogers who documented it in 1882.  This pass through the Selkirk Mountains is well known among the back country skiing community, and it is a long desired destination for yours truly.  Here, uberskier Greg Hill recently completed his quest to climb and ski two million vertical feet in a year.  Skiers from around the world come here to sample some of the world's best skiing in awe-inspiring terraine.  Gord, Deb, Ken and Beth were very kind to show yours truly some terrific touring at Rogers Pass.
We found somewhat unsettled snow, in other words, BLOWER!!  The good folks showed this lucky Rogers neophyte Alaskan a great time at Connaught Creek's Teddy Bear Trees area.  A very enjoyable time, I called it; Gord called it 'sporty' and I think he meant not ideal.  The trees were tight with a few alders, but lines were there and I loved it! 
Rogers Pass Accommodations
Crossing Connaught Creek
Marching Up Connaught Creek

January 7, 2011

Kootenay 4

We finished our breakfast by candle light because the power went out at about 7:20 a.m.  Regardless, the pilot and mechanic fired up the magic machine and we went skiing!

A fresh foot had fallen overnight, and it heavily snowed most of the day.  Temperatures rose to a very wet state up to about 4300 ft, our lowest pick-up of the day.  The snow was deep and we needed steep to ride and we got it.  Sloughs were less frequent than yesterday, but some were quite large and dense.  Skiing was great with over-the-head plumes.

After completing the CMH 4-day trip, yours truly left the Kootenay operation for self-propelled ski touring at Rogers Pass.  I followed Gord and Debbie from Nakusp back to Revie.  Like the opposite direction, we made the ferry with not much contingency.  I was the last car on the Revelstoke return trip, versus next to last on the Nakusp-bound ride. 

The avalanche report is not promising.  We'll see what tomorrow brings.

January 6, 2011

Kootenay 3

More snow (big sigh), more weather down time (wah!).  But, thanks to pilot Sluggo and the guides, we were able to get out at 11 a.m. in heavy snowfall; 8 a.m. is normal departure.  We skied untracked lines in 14 inches (35 cm) fresh snow until dark:  Pleasure Center, Shotgun and Squarehead, 12,100 ft vertical by my count. 

Slough management was key today as the fresh snow was moving a bit.  There were sloughs that could knock a man down, but skiing out of them or skiing faster than the sloughs were good enough solutions to safely keep us in powder paradise.

January 5, 2011

Kootenay 2

Day 2 weather delay, rotor icing.  Finally got up and out for 8600 ft vertical at  Pleasure Center, Shotgun, Squarehead.
 Kootney CMH glades are perfect pitch, perfect spacing and perfect snow.  This trip is their first of the season, so the only tracks we see are ours.  And later in the season with the frequent Selkirk snowfall, the untracked experience is the norm.

January 4, 2011

Kootenay 1

Kootenay is a heliskiing operation based in Nakusp, British Columbia staffed by some the warmest, friendliest people you'll ever meet and guided/piloted by true professionals.  It is one of eleven heliskiing areas in the Canadian Mountain Holidays portfolio of premier skiing experiences.  Kruser cast the lure, and I hit it like a Northern Pike.  My third visit to Kootenay with said powder pusher started off like all the rest - EPIC!!!  We had a very nice group:  Debbie, Gordon, Lori, Geo, Scott and son Greg, Dr. Snow, mw, Kruser, and yours truly led by the esteemed Guide Patrick. 

Patrick also capably presented our orientation to all three of this week's groups.  We viewed our safety video, an interesting piece put together with excellent examples and extremely important information that stuck.  Then off to the heliport for instructions from pilot Mike and avalanche transciever training by the guides.  Then we flew away in the magic machine to the powder paradise in the Selkirks.

We skied.

Bowling Alley, Rim, Little Leary, Pleasure Center, Shotgun,