Much More Snow in the Forecast

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My what a difference a couple of weeks makes. In late November we had begun to joke that perhaps our ski area had permanently shrunk to Green Valley. The snow had gotten thin near the bottom of the chair and our laughs were taking on a more grimaced nuance. Dry, chalky snow could still be found under the gondy line, and the warm inversion above the cold foggy city felt great.

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Green Valley November 20, 2015

But let’s be real. What we really want is snow. Not only do we want a solid base on the ground, we also need frequent top-offs. But if anyone had told me on November 30th what the next two weeks had in store, I would have laughed them off as crazy.

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Flakes the size of 10-year-olds fell on December 1st

December slammed into the Pacific Northwest like a drunken Santa on the world’s stormiest sleigh. A week into the month the four horseman of the apocalypse were standing by to wash us all down the mountain in a biblical storm. The gale of December 8th was so violent the fiber optic line, along with the power lines that feed Greenwater and Crystal, washed into the river. We had no outside communication for two days (which, if you ask me, was actually kind of nice).

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Miles breaking trail up the Throne in early December

The net result of that storm created great coverage up high, and quickly the snow started falling at the base too. Now, two weeks into the month we are open wall to wall. There’s over 53″ on the stake in Green Valley, which is above normal, and the forecast is calling for more snow.

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Southback filling in December 13, 2015

Much more snow.

72Hour Snow total

By next Tuesday we could have 30-40 more inches of snow

Cliff Mass is calling it “mountains of snow.” With three big snow-producing storms lined up in the Pacific, the forecast is calling for several feet of fresh snow over the next five days.

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This is what I’m talking about

It’s been years since the words feet and forecast have shared a sentence. Let that one sink in for a moment.

November and December are often our stormiest months, so this shouldn’t come as a complete shock. Perhaps its the weak winters of late that produce what I can only describe as a feeling of disbelief and awe. Part of me hesitates to even talk about the forecast lest I jinx it somehow.

When the forecasters are talking about mountains of snow, I think we can trust that, at the very least, we are going to have a very white Christmas.

3D Trail Map Coming to Crystal

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Ever wanted to ski the hill like a local? Ever wished the tiny trail map in your pocket showed all the best runs at Crystal? Fatmap 3D trail mapping app lets you do just that. For every skier or rider who has tried to follow the new buddy they just met on the gondy into Left Angle Trees and lost their guide before Elk Pass, this app is for you. This trail map is also for those that know the mountain pretty well, but want to find all the nooks and crannies that locals allude to in the bar, but never quite explain how to find. For locals who already know everything there is to know about Crystal Mountain, this app will help you put your knowledge to the test.

FATMAP-Mobile-3D-Ski-Maps-SocialDo I sound like a marketer? Maybe. But I know what I’m talking about because I wrote all the trail descriptions and (painstakingly) digitized the amazing satellite imagery used for these maps. (For those wondering why I’ve been absent from posting, this project has been a big part of that.)

Here’s how it works in a nutshell. You load the app on your phone. The free version shows all the marked runs plus the “points of interest” like restaurants and ski patrol locations (obviously the most interesting point of all *grin*). Just click on one of the marked runs and you will get a description of the trail. Click the “fly over” button and the view zooms to the top of the run then begins to fly over the run as if you were paragliding above it. It also follows you via GPS, so you can always figure out where you are.

FM_PR_July15_Grey_1-Device_ZMT-Wide-LRGFor a few bucks more you get the pro version, which includes all the unmarked (and often hard to find) runs at the ski area. This is the real beauty of this trail map. Ever wondered how to find Damn Fine Forest? Just click on the list of freeride names and voila! You will find this this honey of a stash as well as how to access it. Never knew where S-Bend Chute is? Well now you can.

Fatmap started offering this amazing app last season in Europe. It’s just now coming on line in North America. This is the wave of the future in negotiating your favorite ski area. It’s also the very best tool in your kit for impressing the bar flies in the Snorting Elk, or that good looking guy or gal who’ve been hoping to chat up. Just pull out your phone and show him or her the app. You’ll have him/her at “loading”.

In addition to Crystal, they’re also launching a version of Whistler, Alta/Snowbird, Aspen, Big Sky, Jackson Hole, Squaw, and a bunch of others great resorts.

So check it out.

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Snow in the Forecast

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After over a week of high pressure and inversion at Crystal Mountain, we finally have some snow in the forecast. While it has certainly been nice at the top of Crystal this week with calm winds, sunny skies and warm weather, I, for one, am ready for some frozen precipitation.

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Noaa Forecast for the summit of Crystal

Looks like our first shot of real snow could come Tuesday night, with up to 10 inches at the top. We should also get snow at the base too, although not as much as up high. Wednesday is looking like a 12 hour warm up, with rain in the afternoon turning back to snow by Thursday morning.

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72 Hour Snowfall Forecast ending 4am Saturday

By next weekend, all ski areas should have a net increase of at least a foot of new snow. Here at Crystal that translates into more open terrain. I’d love to see Rex and Forest Queen start spinning soon. And of course, Chair 6 and Northway will be next. Let’s all start our snow dances now!

Crystal Mountain Opens Today

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The 2015-2016 ski season starts today at Crystal. After a damaging wind and rain storm earlier this week, we are now blessed with an upper mountain draped (and caked!) in a wind-packed base. A few inches of fluff fell in the past two days, so conditions are fast and fun. It sort of feels like the entire upper mountain has been groomed by the wind. This time of season a solid base is key, as it covers over the rocks and bushes.

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Green Valley Nov 20th, 2016

At this point, Green Valley and Snorting Elk are open. We hope to expand terrain as soon as we get a little more snow. Lucky Shot is very close, but the snow peters out to nil a few hundred feet below the bottom of Rainier Express. This make me want to shake my fist at the weather gods.

Looking ahead at the forecast, there’s a chance for a few inches of snow Monday night. I’m hoping for more than a few inches, because after that the forecast turns dry.

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Upper Mountain looking sweet

It’s still early in the season and we have plenty of winter storms ahead of us. For now, just getting back on my skis and carving turns in the snow is enough. Many of you readers are probably like me. In the midst of this crazy world, sliding on snow is the only thing that makes sense.

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Ski patrol caught on webcam after setting up the hill

Yesterday, I got to join my friends and co-workers setting up the hill–putting out rope lines and marking the creeks that are still running and generally getting the slopes ready for the crowds today. Carrying around heavy loads of bamboo and rope, I was reminded of how lucky I am to get to do this for my job.

Hope to see you all on the slopes.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Ski Season

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Crystal Mountain received a nice blanket of snow this weekend.

10" of new snow at Crystal

10″ of new snow at Crystal

Powder Bowl isn't looking too bad either

Powder Bowl isn’t looking to bad either

There’s about 8-12″ of snow in Green Valley, and its a nice dense base. One more storm like this and we can open the Gondola and Green Valley. The forecast for this weekend is calling for a few more systems starting on Friday. (The first system should be warm, which could actually help consolidate the base.) Here’s how the forecast discussion reads:

  A WEAK UPPER SHORTWAVE IN THE NORTHWEST FLOW WILL MOVE ACROSS THE 
  FORECAST AREA WEDNESDAY NIGHT...FOLLOWED BY ANOTHER WEAKER FEATURE 
  THURSDAY OR THURSDAY NIGHT. THE SHORTWAVES WILL PROBABLY SCATTER 
  SOME LIGHT SHOWERS ACROSS WESTERN WASHINGTON AT TIMES. THE SNOW 
  LEVEL WILL BE AROUND 3500 FT WEDNESDAY NIGHT AND RISE TO AROUND 
  4500 FT THURSDAY NIGHT...AND SHOWERS COULD BRING 2 TO 5 INCHES OF 
  NEW SNOW TO THE CASCADES FROM AROUND STEVENS PASS NORTHWARD. MCDONNAL 
   
  .LONG TERM...ANOTHER WEAK UPPER RIDGE WILL MOVE QUICKLY ACROSS 
  WESTERN WASHINGTON FRIDAY MORNING...THEN A COLD FRONT WILL DIG 
  SOUTHEAST ACROSS THE AREA FRIDAY NIGHT AND SATURDAY. A SECOND 
  FRONT WILL FOLLOW QUICKLY ON SUNDAY...WITH A FAIRLY DEEP UPPER 
  TROUGH DIGGING OVER THE REGION ON MONDAY. THE SNOW LEVEL WILL RISE 
  TO AROUND 6000 TO 7000 FT AHEAD OF THE FIRST FRONT...THEN FALL TO 
  AROUND 3500 FT ON SUNDAY AND MAYBE ALL THE WAY TO 2000 FT ON 
  MONDAY. MODELS AGREE WELL ON THIS SCENARIO OVERALL. MCDONNAL
Bottom of GV still needs a bit more snow.

8″ at bottom of GV

The bottom of Green Valley still needs a bit more snow. But currently it’s snowing lightly, and every little bit helps. What we need now is one of those big November snowfalls where it dumps 2 feet in 24 hours. (A girl can hope!)

Even if that doesn’t happen, since the crews this summer mowed down all the trees and brush in Green Valley and pretty much everywhere else on the main runs, it won’t take much to get open.

Let’s all start doing our snow dances (and ice-cube-flushing and frozen-spoon-under-the-pillow-sleeping) and get this season started!

Meet Moose the Avalanche Dog

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Crested Butte recently released this awesome video about the life of Moose, an avalanche dog. His handler, Dustin, talks about Moose’s job, his love of the mountains and how he lives to find people buried in the snow.

Avalanche dogs use their noses to find buried avalanche victims. Dogs also make the best ski patrollers–they’re enthusiastic about hard work, love to dig in the snow, and know how to party after a job well done.

Moose the avalanche dog

Are Avalanches an Inherent Risk in Skiing?

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What is Inherent Risk?

The Colorado Ski Safety Act is currently being disputed in the state’s Supreme Court. Salynda Fleury is suing Winter Park Resort after her husband, Christopher Norris, was killed there in an avalanche in 2012. Lower courts sided with the resort, saying that avalanches are covered under the Ski Safety Act, which states, “no skier may make any claim against or recover from any ski area operator for injury resulting from any of the inherent dangers and risks of skiing.” The job now for the state Supreme Court is to interpret the meaning of the term “inherent dangers and risks in skiing.”

Some of the inherent risks of skiing are covered under the act, such as “Changing weather conditions; existing and changing snow conditions; bare spots; rocks; stumps; trees; collisions with natural objects, man-made objects, or other skiers; variations in terrain; and the failure of skiers to ski within their own abilities.”

A ten foot crown on Powder Bowl at Crystal Mountain, 2014

A ten foot crown on Powder Bowl at Crystal Mountain, 2014

Are In-Bound Avalanches an Inherent Risk in Skiing?

When the Colorado Ski Safety Act was enacted in 1979, few skiers were venturing into avalanche prone terrain. Much of the Act focuses on merging on crowded trails, riding lifts, use of proper signage and the like. Very little of the Act mentions responsibilities of either skier or resort occurring in off-piste and expert terrain.

Today more skiers and riders are venturing into avalanche prone terrain than ever. In some places, such as Crystal Mountain, this terrain is marked by “Avalanche Prone” signs. Washington State Ski Law does not explicitly require these signs, however.

The question remains: Are avalanches considered an inherent risk of the sport?

It’s no secret that avalanches are tough to forecast. Even when a slope should slide (due to changing weather conditions and slope angle, for example), often it does not. When avalanches do happen, however, it is most commonly due to changing weather conditions. In Washington state those changes are more obvious. We have more direct-action avalanches here. It storms, it avalanches. In the Rockies, where deep slab instabilities can persist, the weather changes that affect avalanches can be more long term. A prolonged cold snap, for example, can weaken layers that lead to avalanches. This can happen even on a sunny day.

The avalanche that destroyed Crystal Mountain's Chair 6

The avalanche that destroyed Crystal Mountain’s Chair 6

Why this matters to the ski industry

The ski industry is watching this Supreme Court case closely. If Fleury wins her case, ski areas will be much more reticent to open avalanche terrain. At Crystal, we try to open our avalanche terrain–namely Southback, Bear Pits, and Northway–as soon as possible. Skier compaction is the name of the game in avalanche mitigation. In essence we tame avalanches one snowflake at a time. Left to sit untracked, slopes often lose strength over time, if those weak layers get buried by deep slabs and become problems later on.

Rider Kyle Miller PC: Jason Hummel

Rider Kyle Miller PC: Jason Hummel

Why this matters to the skiing public

People want to ski and ride in avalanche terrain. In-bound avalanches are still rare. It may seem oxymoronic, but the more we can keep that terrain open, the safer it will be. The safest slope is one that’s groomed or mogul-filled. Of course, someone has to lay down the first tracks, and by my estimation there’s plenty of willing takers for that task.

What do you think? Should avalanches be considered an inherent risk or should ski areas be liable for in-bound avalanche fatalities and injuries?

What Kind of Winter Are We Going to Have?

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Someone asked me last weekend if I knew what kind of weather we were going to have this winter at Crystal. It’s timely because I was just thinking about how nifty it would be if I could predict the weather. Well, let’s be real here. I want to do more than predict weather. Any weather forecaster could do that. I want to control the weather.

While I haven’t yet mastered weather control, I have found some historical data that might be interesting to you skiers and riders obsessing/fretting/anxious about the season to come.

NOAA is predicting a very strong El Niño for the 2015-16 winter season. It’s easy to worry over this, especially since El Niño’s tend to mean dryer and warmer conditions in the PNW. But we’ve only been through two very strong El Niños in the past hundred years or so and those years weren’t so bad at Crystal.

In 1982-83 was a very strong El Niño event. Crystal reported about average snowfall that season. This was back when the weather plot was behind the Alpine Inn, where the tree canopy may have interfered. We had an active avalanche cycle in 82-83, with a slide that started in Kempers breaking timber all the way down to Highway 410.

1997-98 might be a little easier for locals to remember at Crystal. It was the daddy of all El Niños (which, by the way is spanish for “the niño”). It was the year of Chris Farley’s infamous skit on SNL.

During that season, Crystal ended up with about average snowfall. According to Tony Crocker at bestsnow.net, we were actually ahead. He has a pretty cool month-by-month analysis that you might want to check out. In a nutshell, we started strong at Crystal, had some spring-like conditions in mid-March, then ended in April with enough snow to get to about average depths.

El Niños tend to be pretty unpredictable. There are other factors besides ENSO at play as well. The folks at Atmospheric and Environmental Research consider the snowpack in Siberia in October as a good indication of the severity of winter in North America.

And then there’s the Old Farmer’s Almanac, which you may have heard is predicting a severe winter in many parts of N. America. The OFA uses a secret formula for long-term weather prediction that they keep hidden in a black box. So you know it’s got to be accurate.

The Old Farmer's Almanac predicts a good winter for PNW skiers and riders.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts a good winter for PNW skiers and riders. Which is nice.

One last consideration is the winter in Chile. There’s a “totally scientific” belief at Crystal that the Chilean winters are a prediction of the upcoming winter in the Cascades. The Andes are buried in snow right now. So we’ve got that going for us, too.

So what kind of winter are we going to have at Crystal? One thing I know for sure is that we will have weather, and plenty of it.