Christmas week brought a series of nice gifts for backcountry travellers. Storms on the 21st, 23rd and Christmas day provided 30-36 inches of holiday wrapping. Unfortunately, subsequent winds tore through the snowpack faster than sugar-crazed children unwrapping Christmas morning.
Touring near Berthoud Pass on Wednesday, January 3rd, I discovered many bare, wind-scoured patches above treeline. The snow from those empty spaces has been re-gifted into wind slabs which in places must be several feet thick. Prudence kept me from poking too far onto the slabs to measure.
Although the natural- and skier-triggered avalanche activity reported to the CAIC has tapered off in the past few days, some explosive-triggered slides around the Eisenhower Tunnel area show that it’s still possible to get slides to break with a strong enough tigger.
Thick wind deposits are sitting on top of a very weak layer of facets that formed in November and early December. The overburden of strong slabs is being supported by the weak layers below … for now. There is no telling how much new snow might be enough to tip the balance and start another new round of avalanche activity.
Travellers looking for good lines to ski or ride will have a challenge finding terrain with enough snow to cover the ground but without taking a chance on triggering a persistent slab.
Proper decision-making is essential in current conditions. If you’re new to backcountry travel, join us for an Intro to Backcountry Skiing or Intro to Splitboarding course to learn the fundamentals and get an introduction to backcountry decision-making. If you’re experienced but untrained, consider an AIARE 1 avalanche training course. Already taken one? Don’t forget to take the recommended Avalanche Field Review refresher course each year.
Written by Thomas White, CMS Avalanche Course Leader and Guide
Follow Thomas on Instagram and Twitter using handle @t3hite