Will It Heal? Does it Matter?
On a daily basis I am asked the questions: Will the persistent weak layer problem in our snowpack heal? What will it take? When?
The reality of the matter is, simply, we don’t know, along with a whole lot of other “if... then’s”. In my 20 years of working in the industry, I have seen few seasons quite like this. It feels like winter just finally arrived in the last two weeks adding approximately 1.5 meters of snow on top of our buried persistent weak layer. Initially, this rapid loading of storm snow is what created the major spike in the avalanche danger rating and the crazy avalanche cycle we have experienced this month. I can count on one hand how many times I have seen the blackout avy death rose. As the new-snow rapid loading has settled down for now, this insulating layer, combined with settling will eventually do the trick. Key word: eventually...
In simple terms, we need enough warming in the snowpack to continue this healing metamorphism. Metamorphism is the transformation of snow grains for better or worse. The large, faceted crystals that make up our persistent weak layer need to begin rounding and bonding together. This photo is an example of 2mm facets, notice how angular they are.
Over time, these facets will begin rounding if insulated and warmed. At this stage in the season, our best hope is for small, consistant storms. This will keep our avalanche danger from spiking due to overloading this weak layer again while continuing to add insulation, and the slowly increasing weight will help to settle to the snowpack. This would be the best-case scenario.
Now let’s talk serious. Regardless of what happens with the rest of this season, in the back of my mind there will always be the unsettled question: Does the persistent weak layer still exist? This is a game of Russian roulette: 6 chances, 1 bullet. Even though we love the hypothetical questions and the great conversation about the weak layer healing, this is the season to be true to our word. We constantly wonder if we have enough self-discipline to wait it out. This is the ultimate test.
After last week’s significant storm cycle, this week has brought wind, sun, and a short break in the storms. Ridges have sizable cornices, open slopes have formed a bit of a sun crust, and sheltered areas are still holding great riding conditions.
Photo by Ben Bauter
Observation 20210222 Ben Lomond, Cutler Ridge Jared Allen
Our next storm cycle blows in Friday – Saturday and may produce a few inches in the high country. As we receive a freshen-up this week, please continue to stay diligent, patient, and keep making low-angle wiggle turns.