Tag Archives: Snow

Possible Crystal Mountain Opening Tomorrow

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This is good news. Really good news.

It's dumping

It’s dumping

Crystal might open tomorrow. There’s almost enough snow in Green Valley to spin the lifts, and if we get the forecasted snow (fingers crossed) then we can do it.

I spent the day in Green Valley today, setting up bamboo ropelines and watching the skies carefully. It has now started to snow heavily–snowflakes the size of ten-year-olds. The old crust is supportive, and the turns were actually quite good. A little bit more and it will be like Rocktoberfest–the earlier “Valley Only” opening we did in October. If you were there, or if you heard about it, you know how good it was.

Tomorrow morning at 5am we will make the call. John and I plan to ride the gondola at 4:30am with our headlamps, take a lap into the valley and go from there. I, for one, am hoping for good things.

If you have plans tomorrow, you might want to put them on hold. Once we make that 5am decision, it will go out on the website and Facebook.

So stay tuned and think snow.

Snow in the Forecast

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I’m not one to obsess about the forecast¹. So when I just happened to check out the latest forecast discussion on NOAA, I was pleasantly surprised. I especially liked this part:

  A MUCH STRONGER SYSTEM WILL IMPACT THE REGION ON FRIDAY FOR 
  THE POTENTIAL FOR HEAVY SNOW IN THE MOUNTAINS AS WELL AS 
  COLDER WEATHER AND LOCALLY WINDY CONDITIONS.
Winter Forecast

7 Day Forecast for Crystal Mountain

Friday looks like our best chance for snow, with the forecast calling for 6-10″ up high and about 4-6″ down low. With strong west winds, we could pick up a little more than that in places like Green Valley Bowl. Saturday will bring some leftovers and orographic showers with Sunday now offering cold enough temperatures to add a little man made snow to the mix.

Already we have a 8-12″ base on the upper mountain, but need quite a bit more to open. It rained lightly yesterday, but not enough to melt what’s already in place. However, the rain hopefully helped to rid the growing snowpack of early season facets that could cause avalanche problems down the road.

24 Hour precipitation amounts ending Saturday

24 Hour precipitation amounts ending Saturday

People always ask John, “how much snow do you need to open?” The answer is always, “it depends.”

We always welcome a big November storm that deposits two feet of wet snow that compacts into a nice, smooth base. (Miles Clark over a snowbrains.com put out a nice post this week about why the PNW gets so much snow. The pattern mentioned in the article would be very welcome right about now.)

But this year we’ve had an accumulation of smaller amounts of snow that could add up to enough. Some of the long-term models are showing a low in the Gulf of Alaska, which could usher in those classic November storms we all like to see.

With “summer grooming” and strategic rock picking at Crystal, we try to set ourselves up for needing the least amount of snow possible to open. This could be one of those years where we get enough to open Green Valley, but have to wait for more snow to open the rest of the mountain. Only time will tell.

So start doing your snow dances and rubbing your Ullr pendants. Book that non-refundable trip to Mexico for Thanksgiving and stop washing your socks. We could use all the help we can get up here.

¹ Actually this is a complete lie.

First Snowfall at Big Sky

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You doesn’t love the first snow of the year? Raise your hand if you’re already jonesing for those first turns. I know I am.

Just Snowboarding at Night

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Want to hit the slopes in the dark? No need for a headlamp, just light your whole body. Not only is this short video stylish and beautiful, it’s pretty amazing. At first I figured the snowboarder, Will Hughes, must have memorized the slope, knowing he wouldn’t hit anything on a perfectly groomed slope. Then he heads towards the trees. And the powder. You have to check this out.

LED Snowboarder

Click to go to Jacob Sutton’s site and watch the video

The Return of Winter

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Snow for the foreseeable at Crystal

Several feet of snow forecast by next week

Several feet of snow forecast by next week

Winter is back. After over a month of spring-like weather in the Cascades, it looks like we are about to return to a cold, snowy forecast, and I, for one, am excited. Don’t get me wrong, a little sun and high pressure in the middle of the season can be a nice break. But now I’m ready for deep snow, light fluff and powder turns. Without this change in the weather, I might just continue to poke my fingers in other people’s eyes, and that’s not good for anybody.

Here’s the forecast:

Friday should be a pow storm day, with wind and sideways snow filling in tracks between laps. High wind could also shut down upper lifts, but with a little luck and a lot of snow, it could be stellar. Snow levels could go up to 4,000 feet, but that shouldn’t be a problem at Crystal. Fingers crossed on that.

Saturday will offer a brief break in the action, with another storm arriving Sunday. Beyond that, the NOAA forecast discussion is calling for continued stormy, cold weather with mountain snow. Now that’s what I’m talking about.

For more information on how to read the forecast and watch the telemetry check out How To Predict Good Snow Conditions.

The Best Part of Travel

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I love to travel. New sights, exotic foods, interesting conversations with strangers all stretch me a little.

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Niseko with Mt. Yotei in the background

Travel takes me out of my comfort zone, turns me upside down and gives me a shake until quarters (or perhaps yen coins) drop from my pockets.

I’m in Niseko on the Japanese island of Hokkaido in search of new experiences, legendary powder and the famous japanese powder trees. Excellent sushi, apres ski onsens (the japanese version of hot tubbing) and a lively little ski town doesn’t hurt either. We’ve been here for a week–hence the lack of new blog posts the past few days–and return today. Or tomorrow rather. We leave tomorrow and get back today. Or something like that. All I know is that we leave Sapporo at 2pm on Tuesday and arrive in Seattle at 8am the same day. It’s like a time machine. I’ve been playing Back to the Future in my head like an earworm, “Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads!”

Yesterday we skied at a tiny area with one lift used by the military for training. It is surrounded by easy access backcountry peaks carved against the backdrop of the Sea of Japan. After a short skin above the lift, we carved down a protected face of fresh snow, the stellar crystals glinting in the sunlight layering itself across the slope like curtains of light.

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Hot spring at the base of Chisenupuri

Lap after lap we found untracked turns, until we skied down to the onsen and lowered ourselves into the steamy, sulfurous water. Our Japanese friend Kenji claims the sulfur warms you to your bones and soothes sore muscles. He might be right about that.

Sometimes, though, the best part of travel is returning home. Seeing new places can offer fresh perspective, it can scrub away the jaded edges that form around familiar viewpoints. Maybe flying 4,000 miles to ski powder makes you that much happier to know its piling up at home, filling in the jibbed-out lines and

Chisenupuri

Chisenupuri with the Sea of Japan behind

resetting itself for your return. I appreciate more now the familiarity of skiing at home, knowing to ski Appliances when the wind blows from the south, how the sun and temperature affect particular lines, that the trees will protect the snow in Paradise when Exterminator, with a similar aspect, is burned to coral. That Powder Bowl stays dry and chalky even in the midst of record breaking inversion. That you can almost always find untracked lines beyond Boxcar.

I return now to yesterday, to the snow storm that’s blowing in Monday evening, even though its Tuesday morning here in Niseko. The sun is out here and it looks like a leftover kind of day. But yesterday it’s snowing at home.

Now all I need to do is channel some lighting into that flux capacitator and just maybe I can bring some of this japowder home with me.

Deep Snow, Avalanches and Keeping Your Brain Screwed on Straight

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Avalanche Prone Area

The Cascade Mountains are in the midst of a major snow cycle. Pacific storms bringing wind and significant snowfall have pounded the Pacific Northwest mountains the past two weeks. As of yesterday, Crystal Mountain had received 40″ of snow in the past two days, and another 18-24″ is expected today. Another foot or two is on deck to Thursday.

Yesterday we posted signs at the ticket windows and the base of all chairs warning people of the hazards of deep snow. We recommend skiing with a partner and keeping them in sight at all times. We also recommend wearing a transceiver and carrying shovel and probe while in avalanche prone areas. Those areas at Crystal are specifically marked. Northway, Southback and Bear Pits are accessed through gates marked “Avalanche Prone Area”. And yet I’m surprised by how many people yesterday in Northway were not wearing transceivers yesterday.

Northway opened at 2pm yesterday after a full day of avalanche control. Moments before the gates opened, the lift went down for a mechanical reason. Eager powder hounds were amassing at the gates.

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The Hike to Morning Glory looking back at Northway Notch yesterday

Ski patrol wanted to open the terrain in order to get tracks in there. Skier compaction is the best way to manage avalanche hazard. Ski and snowboard tracks today will keep the hazard lower tomorrow as new snow creates subsequent layers.

We decided to open “Short North”, asking people to return on I-5 rather than dropping down to the bottom. On a very small but steep section of the horizontal return trail a small pocket of snow pulled out and buried a skier.

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It was easy to get “gold fever” yesterday. Photo by Andrew Longstreth.

She was not wearing a transceiver. The snow carried her about thirty feet to a tree island where subsequent snow buried her. She was not tumbled or pushed very far. Luckily, she was able to punch one arm out of the debris and remove some of the snow near her airway and was therefore able to breath. After approximately 10 minutes, ski patrollers arrived. Witnesses at the scene had already probed her, and she dug her out. She was okay, and able to return to the base area under her own power.

We can all learn many lessons from this close call.

  • Wear a transceiver and know how to use it. Even when you aren’t planning on riding in an Avalanche Prone Area, wear it anyway. You just might be tempted to drop in when we open the gates.
  • Ski with a partner. Keep this partner in sight the entire run. Plan your run ahead of time. Decide where you will stop and wait for the rest of your party. Make sure everyone is accounted for before continuing on.
  • Ski one at a time. Do not drop onto a steep, deep slope with twenty other skiers and riders. Do not drop in above someone else. I know this seems like an impossible task. Often when we drop the gates everyone bum rushes the slope all at once even when we’ve warned them not to. Talk to the other people standing there and stake your lines beforehand.
  • Carry a cellphone and put the ski patrol on speed dial. The emergency-only number is 360-663-3064. Witnesses at yesterday’s close call claim that it took a full five minutes before anyone called patrol.
  • Carry a shovel and probe. Know how to quickly deploy them. Practice using them (and your beacon) at the Easy Searcher search park located next to the Campbell Basin Lodge.

It’s easy to get “gold fever” when standing at the top of a bottomless, untracked slope just as the sun peaks out. You feel like a hero. You feel lucky and blessed. And you are. Just remember to keep your brain screwed on straight. The best skiers and riders always do.

I Love the Sound of Avi Bombs in the Morning

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Avalanche Control

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Photo by Andrew Longstreth

Powder hounds love the sound of avalanche bombs in the morning. To wake to the boom and rattle of windows, to feel the deep compression reverberate across the valley, to open your eyes to the alarm clock of explosives means only one thing. Powder day.

But how do we ski patrollers decide when to go out for avalanche control? Some days the rumble of explosives promises fresh powder, and other days the hillsides are quiet only to reveal deeper and lighter snow than before. So what gives? Why do we go out some days with 3″ of new and not others with 8″?

There are no hard and fast rules. This is weather we are talking about, after all. Our avalanche forecasters decide how the current weather will affect the snowpack, and make the decision to wake us all up at 4AM to come in for avalanche control. Also known as “Avi” or “AC”, we mitigate the avalanche hazard by using explosives or ski cutting to create avalanches while the slopes are closed, so that they don’t happen later, when skiers or boarders take their first turn.

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Surface hoar, once buried, creates a weak layer in the snowpack

The decision to “go out early” is always made before anyone actually sets out on the snow. It would be easy to decide when to go out if we had a clear rubric, if anything 5″ or more meant an automatic callout. But it doesn’t work that way. 5″ of light fluff that falls without wind doesn’t add much stress to the snowpack. However, 5″ of wet, heavy snow that comes in on a southwest wind and deposits snow in our north-facing starting zones could trigger big slides. Avalanche hazard is determined by the strength of the snowpack versus the stress of new snow. The snowpack can weaken or strengthen over time. In a maritime climate, such as ours, the snowpack tends to strengthen over time. The stress of new snow is our biggest determinant in avalanche hazard. We base our avalanche control almost entirely on new snow.

Here’s how we make that decision.

Automatic Callout

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Hiking the Throne for AC in Southback

If the weather is nuking all day long, and we have not had much skier compaction, Chet, the Snow Safety Director, may decide to make the callout “automatic.”

Regardless of what happens overnight, the determination has already been made before the previous ski day ends. If the upper mountain is on “wind hold” during a big snow event, and no one has been up to ski the new snow, we will almost always have an “automatic callout”.

We set our alarms to arrive early to work at about 6AM. Then we all head up the Gondola and disperse from there to our various routes, each consisting of at least one avalanche blaster and one blaster apprentice.

Crystal Mountain has numerous avalanche paths. We are right up there with bigger areas like Squaw and Snowbird for number of detonations.

At other ski patrols, it may take years for a new patroller to gain enough hours to sit for their blasters exam. At Crystal, new patroller usually get enough apprentice hours in a single season.

Jack’s Call

Every night a ski patroller stays at the Summit House. Back in the day, the late Jack Lewis lived there, and we still refer to the night patroller as “Jack”. It can be a sweet gig with views of alpenglow and starlight or it can be windy and stormy and full of calls to cat drivers and midnight walks along the ridge to the top of Grubstake to determine the snowfall. If Jack determines we’ve had enough snow for AC, he or she will call our Snow Safety Director. If Chet agrees, Jack gets on the phone to wake us all up to come in early.

The Decision

But how does Jack decide? That’s the 5 Million Dollar question. The snowpack is likea layer cake. Sometimes that cake is hard and dense and well compacted. Other times a light layer sits pretty on top of denser layers. We do not usually go out then.

72 Hour Snowfall Total

72 Hour Snowfall Total

When we have dense snow on top of weaker snow, that’s a recipe for avalanches.

Dense snow can come from the sheer weight of the snow–a foot of new snow in any form will almost always bring us out for AC. Dense snow can also be transported by wind onto lee slopes.

A few inches of new snow with just the right wind direction can increase avalanche hazard dramatically. Wind, water amounts and temperature all play a role in avalanche control.

Avalanches happen when the stress on the snowpack outweighs the strength. Those days we wake to the sound of booms in anticipation of great skiing.

Looking Ahead

Ski patrollers are looking at the forecast, anticipating some early mornings in the coming days. It is already snowing as of 8AM Saturday and should continue for the next several days. The 72 Hour snowfall total, above, shows over 20 inches of snow in the next few days. Monday morning could be our biggest day yet. The hills will be alive with the sound of avi bombs.