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Reports From the Field: 1/10/18

CMS guide Jason Maurer looks at the RMNP conditions in the Dream Chutes zone.

Rocky Mountain National Park Conditions

CMS Avalanche Course Leader and Guide Thomas White reports the field conditions from 1/09/2018 – 1/10/2018.

The storm that moved into RMNP on Wednesday, January 10th, dropped 4-6 inches by 3:30pm. It was a warm and humid day at 10,000 feet, with temperature just below freezing. These temps should help the new snow to bond quickly to the previous snow surface. The new snow was enough to tip Thursday morning’s Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) forecast for the Front Range zone to a danger rating of “Considerable.”

Rutschblock Test Results

When skiing on a fresh blanket, it’s important to know what lies underneath. That’s why I had my AIARE Level 1 avalanche training group record Rocky Mountain National Park conditions on Tuesday just before the storm started to move in. Their findings, shown below, highlighted the persistent weak layer of faceted snow clearly visible below snow that accumulated since December 21st.

Assessing All Information

Many incoming AIARE-1 students hope to learn how to judge the stability of a slope by digging and performing stability tests. While this course serves as a great introduction, it takes many seasons of digging in the snowpack and performing stability tests to start properly evaluating the snowpack. Even students completing an AIARE Level 2 course are at the beginning of learning how to evaluate snow stability properly. Experience and continued education are paramount.

For CMS guides headed out into the field, snow pits and stability tests are just one piece of the snowpack puzzle. We are always trying to see the big picture of what’s happening in the snowpack. We dig into the season’s weather history, significant snow events and pauses between storms. as well as collect and asses our own personal observations and reports for our fellow guides and park rangers. All that information gets blended with the forecast from the CAIC.

Since it’s hard for a recreational rider to do enough digging to stay abreast of the evolving snowpack, is digging a waste of time? Absolutely not. The Rutschblock test that our AIARE Level 1 students performed on Tuesday was a great learning experience. It’s sobering to see a large block of snow fail under a skier’s feet. It also confirms that the persistent weakness that the CAIC is reporting is valid even on days when we aren’t seeing reports of avalanches being triggered naturally or by backcountry travelers.


I’m confident that the students who took the time to dig a large column test on Tuesday had a better understanding of why a small extra load of 4-6 inches of new snow was enough to raise the danger rating to “Considerable” on Thursday.

The skiing in RMNP is starting to get good. It’s about time to get my new Dynafit Beast 108’s mounted up and ready for duty. You can count that before I do that, I’ll be continually evaluating the snow, weather, CAIC forecasts and more. I suggest you do the same!

Written by Thomas White, CMS Avalanche Course Leader and Guide
Follow Thomas on Instagram and Twitter using handle @t3hite

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