The calendar says that it’s spring but it wasn’t corn snow I just skied in Right Gully. Boot top, fluffy and blown in. The goods, certainly by East coast standards. I even made it a point to avoid the two steep drop-ins that sported mid-winter pillows ripe to slide on skiers right since someone could be below me in the runout. And apparently, I was right. It was spring skiing in the minds of a posse of 20 or so who somehow thought it was a good idea to boot directly up the runout of Right Gully. And others in Sluice. And those 4 hiking straight up the runout of Left. And the father who made his way up to the narrows of the Chute with his 2 small children. As an an avid backcountry skier, I love seeing people do their homework, make their field assessments and reach their decisions to rip the tassels off a sweet powder line, but today was a lot to digest as a new Snow Ranger. And given the forecast for the weekend, the crowd, not one of them wearing a beacon, is just getting warmed up.
But I digress. Looking ahead at the forecast for the weekend I would be thinking about several things if I was looking for a backcountry skiing destination. One, go someplace adventurous with a north east through northwest facing aspect ideally, narrow enough and steep enough to contain a lot of blown in pow. It’s there, I know it, because I skied it on my days off. Lots of mid-elevation gullies are waiting for skilled parties, fearing little in the way of blundering overhead triggers, to sign their names to the snow.
If you have your heart set on skiing and climbing in the Cutler River drainage you will certainly have options. Today’s solar gain started to work quickly on southerly aspects even though there were only brief spells of clearing. By and large the snow remained cold and dry in Right Gully and from what I could see elsewhere on the solar aspect. That could change tomorrow afternoon in lee areas in the middle of Lobster Claw through the Lip where the snow will probably get a bit denser, and possibly more unstable. There will be a window in the late morning hours where ski conditions will remain really good, and that may be the case all day depending on wind speeds and cloud cover, but be on the look out for existing slabs to possibly weaken through the day if heating ratchets up. Early signs of coming instability will be rollarballs and pinwheels, icefall from the Sluice and just generally wet snow on the surface that wets your glove when you squeeze it. You’ll know it too when it piles up on top of your boots. The varying thickness of the slab over our rain crust/bed surface is the nagging concern. The recently loaded snow has covered the 3 foot thick crown line in Center Bowl and Sluice quite deeply in spots. Where the slab is thick, skiers could pass uneventfully. Put 30 skiers on the hangfire or below it and there could be trouble even without potential heating of the slab. Hopefully, things will stay cool and powderhounds can have some more fun.
Climbers venturing into Huntington should enjoy good ice conditions with most snow climbs yielding easily to boots. Steeper, wind scoured areas of old rain crust will be scattered around and will present challenging self arrest conditions, generally near the tops of Damnation, Yale and Central. Those same gullies will harbor the greatest threat of natural rock and icefall as the high sunlight works on melting the ice. Odell’s will be a mixed bag but should provide fairly secure booting up the upper part of the climb above the ice. Conditions will lean further towards postholing as you continue around to South and Escape Hatch. Skiers take note.
Overall this weekend we have in store a pleasant continuation of mild winter conditions even though the calendar, valley temperatures and most peoples schedules say that it is spring. So, pack your bags and head out while winter is still holding on. And don’t forget to watch for the other guy above you because he may not be looking out for you.