Well well, what a couple of weeks up and down the Wasatch. The 21-22 season started slow but picked up pace fast. The riding conditions around Christmas and New Year’s were all time, and helped shed some light into a dark space we were all holding onto from last season. Sense December 29th the Ogden area has picked up around 56-70’’ of snow and 5.68-7.00’’ of SWE. Unfortunately, the area was plagued with an upside-down snowpack during the last system in that we had cooler temps at the start of the storm and they continued to rise throughout, rain was also a factor in many zones. Which has current riding conditions less then desirable and makes you wish the bench was dry so you could ride your bike!
Avalanches where prevalent on the morning of Jan 5th our storm started with 9’’ @ 0.75 SWE and had another 6’’ @ 1.10 SWE fall upon it. Failures in the lower density snow were widespread. It was estimated that some 60+ avalanches were seen or reported that day. Now mind you this was due to skier traffic or explosive work; we did not see a widespread natural cycle. Another 5’’ @ 0.73’’ SWE fell and provided some creamy surfy like conditions and areas where the low-density snow had already been flushed out started to increase in stability. Then came the rain!!!! Runnels, crusts, and curb and gutter conditions exist on many aspects and elevations. Bill Brandt says it’s the third worst skiing conditions he has experienced and that’s saying something this guy skis a lot!
That being said the riding conditions will get good again and we have some signs of hope for our snowpack on the horizon. Rain on new snow events are not ideal when the event is occurring. We all no snow and especially new snow does not like rapid change and rain is about the most radical thing snow can see. Rain typically causes widespread avalanche events because it decreases the snowpack strength by breaking down bonds, adds a rapid amount of weight, and reduces tensile strength with-in the pack. But overtime rain on snow events are also known to help strengthen a snowpack. Creating better bonds with in the snow crystals.
Another sign of hope we have in our current snow pack is depth. Many mid and upper elevation packs are over a meter deep now. This provides insulation through our snowpack and temperature gradients lessen. With higher or strong temperature gradients comes faceting of the snowpack. And with low or weak temperature gradients comes rounding and sintering of the snowpack. Our deeper snowpack is becoming insulated and temperature gradients are lowering. Many snow pits dug in the last week have begun to show a healing of the old snow that had created what we all know is a persistent weak layer. The amount of un-bonded large crystal facets being found is lessening and stability test scores are rising.
Now I am in no way saying that we have a green light to charge any and all big northerly lines. And I am also not saying that you don’t have to worry about avalanches for the rest of the season. Structure should always trump results. You should always do your due diligence by digging pits, understanding surface and current snowpack conditions, and reading recent observations when entering into any but especially suspect terrain.
But……… I do believe there is a bit more light creeping into our dark space. Cheers to a happy new year and hopefully a happy snow pack.