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

1 comment:

Dante said...

Good for good decision making, glad everyone got home safe. The SP incident was certainly interesting. We were skiing the snot out of that mountain exactly one year ago. When I talked to tele-Pete on Friday though (if you read Saturday's SP avi forecast he was mentioned) he said he highly discouraged skiing there.
Skinny skied in Hatcher Pass on Sunday. Gorgeous weather and they picked up new snow; should have just brought the board.