BACKCOUNTRY SKIING REPORTS2007-2008:
July 12, 2008
"Well, it looks like this might be it for the 2008 ski season, so you can stop being irritated by these never-ending reminders that hedonism is alive and well in Montana. ╩Jon Speare, Dave Morris and I headed up to Trapper for July 12 corn. ╩Turned out to be more sun cups than corn, but as they say in my home stomping ground of Lake Tahoe, "It's allll good!" ╩Actually the skiing wasn't bad. ╩The main north-facing chute off Trapper was steep and narrow at the top, requiring some mild ski gymnastics; down lower it was firm corn with small sun cups. ╩We climbed out one of the steeper, narrower lines to the ridge (all these steeper lines were melted out), then descended to Gem Lake. ╩The Gem Lake Couloir had a massive cornice at the top, with no sneak options, so we skied around the other side and accessed it from the bottom. ╩It was difficult skiing, very firm and suncupped, and when I reached the lake my quads were toast. ╩Voila: season over! ╩" Colin Chisolm
June 30- I received another report today from Colin who was out skiing Warren Peak in the Pintlars and Rainbow Peak as well, he wrote that conditions were favorable for descents of the north sides of these peaks though snow was disappearing fast.
6 Borah Peak Photos by Colin Chisholm:
Photos of Mission Traverse, Grey Wolf to MacDonald Peak by Brian Story:
Photos of Sawtooths by Brian Story:
June 29th-2008- While ski season finished early for me this year, it was pleasantly replaced with a three week trip by kayak and raft on the Colorado River's Grand Canyon. Please check the link in the reports page for the trip report and photos from this great river trip in the heart of the American southwest desert. While I was enjoying face shots of water, ski partners continued to track up the mountainsides laying down some impressive tours during the small windows of high pressure. Most notably was a one day traverse of the southern Missions from Grey Wolf Peak to MacDonald Peak and a ski descent of Borah Peak in Central Idaho. If you are still out there enjoying the white stuff I would love to here of your travels. Spring skiing is now in good shape over on the west coast's volcanoes so if you are looking for those big descents out there check into Shasta, Adams, Rainier, and the others. Alaska skiing should be going strong as well and if your looking for the exotic, it is powder season in New Zealand, Chile, and Argentina. I would recommend skiing Rainier and then getting on a flight to Santiago, Chile to enjoy easy access high country powder within an hour or two of the capital city.
4-26-08 Saturday proved to have great weather as predicted. I had planned to ski up Canyon Creek to investigate skiing the south face of Canyon Peak. I used Romney Ridge to access a high traverse from 7990 to the bowl just east of the first lake at the falls. I skinned from here into the Middle Canyon Lake basin then approaching the southern ridge of Canyon peak from the highest lake. I used the obvious pass through the rocks via a snowfield and cornice chunk. The approach from there to the south face consisted of a traverse into the main gullet and then a short hike to the rocks within 100-200 feet of the summit. I climbed to an alcove where with room for one person only I donned the skis and skied carefully from there on the 45+ terrain above a couple low rocks. Once below the rocks I linked some decent turns down through the sunny side powder and debris. As I had hiked the final bit it had slabfractured a 3 inch warm sheet about a quarter acre from my feet as I ascended. Most of the powder had therefore been scoured off the upper face. I made a few powder turns above an island that held the old snow, cut across the debris field left and skied good warm powder for a total of 1000 from the summit. Skins on from there and made quick work of climbing back to the pass out of Sawtooth Canyon. Skins off again for a short 200 powder run on the shady shide from the notch with some of the best snow for the day. I traversed the uper bench below the cliffs and approached the northeast face of the peak from there. Skinning up to the final 100 vertical it looked like the face held a decent line from the summit ridge. Indeed when directly below there was a twenty foot wide lane running from the summit snowfield through the cliffs east and west. I ascended to the base of the cliffs and switched to hiking. After an aborted attempt on a central gully I gained the main gully and ascended to the skiers summit rather quickly as it was only 200 vertical but 45+ and thin with bad fall zones right and left. I stuck to the only fall line for the full ascent. The summit ridge was cozy and I took my time switching over and taking a look around. High Lake Basin was beautiful and deep and fun to look across to Blodgett Mountain and Shatuck Peak.in Idaho. The sun was shinining brightly and then it was time for the descent. The most tenuous descent of the season for me as the fall line was so confined by cliffs on both sides. Fortunately it is not too long with a decent tree free runout 500 feet below. I skied the boottrack or just right of the line in the fresh. After five feet of sideslipping down, one slab chunk peeled of under my feet and schussed down the gully fast and heavy. At 6+ inches this was a very hazardous slide, but it confined itself to the fallline. Leaving another patch of fresh to the left I worked the margin between left slab and right bed surface until I was able to get the left slab to release, which ran smaller down the same gully. From there it was a sideslip down through the chute hop turning only for better fall position until I emergred on the fan for some delightful powder skiing into the basin below. With another north peak beckoning promising good views of Canyon Peak and another basin to explore I skinned up for the final 500 vertical. The views were perfect of the mountain and my tracks and the fracture lines. Turning north I watched as a couple of Mountain goats loped across the rocky ridges to gain the final summit rocks to the north. They perched there looking my way for a minute before bounding downhill on the rocks and snow patches of the headwall above High Lake. A quick descent from this point entered me into the northernmost basin. This descent was ratherr relaxing compared to the other two peak runs and from the bottom I had a delightful two mile long moderate ski run down to the middle lake and on to the lower lake and then down Canyon Falls to the trail. The ski out the trail was pretty good with snow the whole way except on the one lower gorge bypass where I skied down and across the creek before regaining the trail. Eleven hours on the trail with 7500 vertical. The south face is one of the largest runs I have seen in the Root. It is close to a mile wide and descends all the way cleanly to the creek aspen grove. I hope to return in better winter powder conditions next year.
4-22-08 Earth Day...Don and I celebrated by skiing up Little Rock creek in a morning snow storm. When we reached the upper lakes at 7600 feet the wind was gusting 40+ the snow was spinning in from heavy clouds, and the upper peaks were firmly obscured above 9000 and it was 15 degrees. We could not wait comfortably for more than 30 minutes there and headed out, downcanyon with no change noted in incoming weather. Downcanyon the downsloping was clearing the sky some with strong ridge winds persisting. By the time we were at the egress at 4800 feet the canyon was dripping from snow melt in the trees. We had a good tour marked by the raw power of the scenery and weather and a fun tour out skiing the fast outtake which included shussing the powdery stream bed, rapids and falls. We must wait and try again for El Capitan and the Como Peaks.
April 20, 2008- Yesterday saw me skiing again and despite the snowy weather the limited visibility held quite well and Brian Story and I were able to navigate up Chaffin Creek to ski the Sugarloaf. After skiing the Tin Cup Wall aka the Fortress, and getting a good look at the north face it has seemed like a great destination with its bold summit snowfield, thin western couloir and fine apron. The drainage climbs quickly so that once at the base of the Sugarloaf there is no more than 2500 vertical to climb. The fresh snow provided good dust on crust and we skinned to where edging became difficult and then commenced fairly easy bootpacking. The climb up through the couloir was beautiful and the exit out onto the broad face was a nice juxtaposition. We skinned and hiked to the summit where I spent no more than two minutes with limited views except to the run ahead. Skiing the upper face was nice powder and the abrupt end to the face below on the cliffs gave an eerie sense to hanging on a snowfield. Entering the couloir was tight and required some sideslipping but once into the line, the hop turns were quite fun and pleasant. The apron was 4" dust on a bomber crust and after a second run there we shussed out the canyon in little more than an hour. An excellent tour with good options on the north side of the creek on south faces as well.
April16, 17 2008- I ventured out onto the rivers these two days with a run on the Lochsa at 2700cfs with Karl on Wednesday in the cloudy 40 degree day, fortunately not snowing or raining much on the run. This was a nice first run on this river with everything flowing good enough to pass by the obstacles. Then I paddled with some friends the Salmon River on thursday's bluebird, missing an opportunity to ski El Capitan with Colin, who completed the tour and ski of the east face in dust on boilerplate as he put it.
April 12- Today with the exceptionally beautiful weather and heat up in store we started fairly early and headed up the south fork of Lost Horse to get after Koch Peak. This tour, a suggestion from Brian Story, involved a decent 5 mile approach and a 4000 foot climb from the canyon. The peak is a magnificent headwall of steep rocks split by two ski lines, a summit thin, steep, couloir line and a gully couloir splitting the two main summit rocks. With a hanging basin obscuring the upper peak it was not until around 7000 feet that the tourer can even see the bulk of the north facing skiing there. Once there, the continual sluffing off the steep rocks to the west provided great visuals as we started the bootpack up the gully. The hiking was difficult with a windcrust to punch through and then above knees postholing. Brian had described a great circuit of skiing the peak, the gully and then heading east and out of this basin to ski the right hand of the twin gullies off a shoulder back to the creek. We mirrored his description for a fantastic tour in decent conditions. I was not going to ski this day, but had the opportunity when my younger daughter chose to go to soccer with her sister. I would have been a bit bummed to have just heard about this perfect day in the mountains with Colin and Jens on Koch and Brian up making his successful attempt on El Capitan. Thanks to my ski partners Colin and Jens and to Brian for the inspiration and information on this great tour. Thanks to my family for living with my mountain addiction, they are so supportive.
April 10- Jenny and I made the trek to Downing mountain for a run today and found good powder on the upper norteast faces and good corn on the southeast faces below 6000 feet. East faces between 6500 and 7500 were breakable crust and 8000 foot south faces are almost corn snow, though yesterday they were blanketed in some fresh snow about 2-4 inches deep. The snow has been dogged and has only melted away on true south faces at lower elevation. We were still able to ski 3300 vertical right back to the car and there is still 3 feet of settled snow at the Grubstake Restaurant. Richard usually opens Mother's Day, but was shaking his head wondering if it would not be closer to Memorial Day this year. With a heatup predicted for the weekend and then another round of storms it looks as though spring is going to last. I am looking forward to some of the great southfacing runs in corn snow. In the meantime my legs need a bit of a break. I am headed into the Selway River next weekend for a kayak trip and am trying to get some training days on the river before then. I had a report of a fellow headed in to attempt the east face of El Capitan this weekend, I look forward to hearing of his trip. The views we had from Tin Cup this week made it look entirely feasible. Unfortunately I could not join him. He had earlier successes last week on Koch peak and the SW face of the Heavenly Twins, both big mountain skis. With snows in the valleys lingering at 150% of average I am hoping for a slow warmup to allow further trips to the Como Peaks, Koch Peak, North Trapper, and hopefully the Tetons.
April 8- Headed up Blodgett Canyon again today with two new partners and we skied the Swan Chute. The powder lingers and despite some old tracks we had a wonderful run back to the creek and a pleasant schuss out to the trailhead. South faces have melted on Mill and Printz ridge up a thousand feet. Amazing we can ski to the creek and parking lot in two feet of settled snow still.
April 7- Today was Don's last available day for awhile so he picked a venue we have been apprenticing for all these years. Heading up for another Peak to Creek attempt four of us skinned five miles or so up Tin Cup Creek to the Fortress and the hope of skiing one of the Tin Cup Chutes. We followed wolverine tracks upcanyon the whole way and left them at the creek crossing before the climbing started in earnest. The skinning was okay and became increasingly difficult as the snow depth increased with the pitch. Two of us skinned within 1500 of the summit ridge while two bootpacked. We were neck and neck the whole way. Then cycling through the chore of breaking the bootpack was quite manageable with the four of us, nonetheless, our noses scraped the snow as we stomped out our next footfall on this 45 degree run . Aiming for a small snowy notch on the ridge we arrived about six hours after departing the car and 5000+ vertical later. The views of upper Little Tin Cup, the Sugarloaf and the Trapper Peak were sensational to the south and rounded out the vast views of the sunnyside Como Peaks and El Capitan. What an incredible ridge and range these Bitterroots are. We poked up the rocks to the summit 9265, scoped the south chute and bowls, ate some food hastily and watched as a squall descended on us spitting beautiful snowflakes and briefly obscuring the views of the peaks to the north. Once we clicked into the skis and let gravity take over this 4400 foot fall line proved superlative in ideal conditions.
April 5, 2008- Despite the call for snow by midday and having missed thursdays perfect conditions for some parking lot climbing, we reascended to monday's ridge of East Boulder yesterday to ski another line to the falls. We found a challenging and steep line that went without cliffs from below the high point. The snow was fabulous old powder hidden in this cleft in the cliffs, and we alternated first tracks as there was not much room for all three of us to have freshies. The entrance had my attention with a slip below the cornice above the cliffs to enter on chalky hardpack. Waiting there for the others to enter safely afforded some good photos and we tag teamed each other the 4000 to the creek for lunch. Today we left it as the one run and found the trail out much less tiring! What a grand venue with plenty more to explore over the years.
April 1, 2008- We arrived home on Sunday and found fresh snow in the Bitterrooot. With the chance for clearing weather three of us pushed for the ridgeline of a Bitterroot classic monday morning. I had skied one of the lines previously and my partners neither. So it was with excitement that I headed up to the alpine. We realized partially clear skies and when the sun came out it was welcome as the air temparature started off at 10 degrees F. The initial 5000 foot push felt good after a week of shorter tours. When we reached the summit entrances the sun was shining and we explored the entries into the chutes a bit further along. Tempted to drop a steep line from the summit gave way to skiing the known rollovers and skinning back up into the adjacent basin for a look from the bottom. Dropping into the top of this line has plenty of room for three and we scratched down wind buffed hard powder until reaching the good stuff 100 feet below. And good it was alternated by stiff pockets and a wee bit of hard pack. There was a decent amount of debris in the lower run which made skiing another notch challenging, but not bad. -4000 feet later we were basking in the sun euphoric from the experience. Skiing from the summit ridge down and across the creek in a continuous 4000 feet was ideal and is a long sought after travel corridor in backcountry skier habitat. Tickled we stared up
admiring the Sun, the run, the goddess. After a brief break for water and lunch we headed up canyon through the spruce fir forest open, partially burned and deep in five feet of snowpack. No glopping made travel easier and we pushed a thousand feet up and into the pleats of the broad neighbor's skirt. From their we stared up another 3000 feet through a lacework of chutes and ridgelets. We abandoned thoughts without words for the upper entry as the way appeared too rocky through the middle. Ramping to the farthest west we broke over the ridge there to another fantastic view of the next basin, even bigger. Struggling now with steep skinning and a rocky ridge we eventually boottracked for a couple hundred vertical on steep terrain. Gaining gentler ground afforded our return to our skis. Farthest west and about 400 vertical shy of the summit we hiked up a rocky key to the ridge and stood in the wind, rocks and snow, sky. This angel, 3500 vertica,l was even better than the first with a more even moderate pitch, better snow and less debris to ski. Again we skied down a huge path to the creek crossing downstream of a 25 foot wide 6 foot deep pool, where thirsty I fished for water and got enough. Now for the underappreciated drainage, seldom mentioned part of the glory above. The toes of the snow strollers, this watercourse wound at the core of the valley. Following game trails was the way this trail was built. While 1000 of descent to the Bitterroot Valley the trail climbed every hil that got in the way. The downhills were not too fast fortunately and we imagined the burnt blowndown possibilities to bring cheer to the 6 miles.
March 26, 2008- Made the spring break move to Big Sky where there have been accumulating snow showers with brief windows of sun. I have toured up Beehive Basin the passed two mornings and found some good skiing on west facing slopes above the basin. There is widespread crusts and seeking out the best is by trending as north as possible. Getting online today I noticed significant new snow coming to the Root. Second winter is underway. While the skiing can be good over here in Southwest Montana, it is hard to find fall line runs that are 3000 feet or more. Blessed are the big runs in the Bitterroot.
March 20, 2008- We had a great day with all the new snow out there. At 8000 feet there was at least a foot of new powder which was quite variable in consistency and quality depending on aspect and elevation. As expected best snow was found on north trending slopes; however southeast was skiing okay despite being Sierra Cement. Second winter seems to be in full swing and while with good warm temperatures the new is settling fast, there is enough of it to cause some concern on steeper terrain. I lucked out today with three great ski partners to ski with and we took three runs up at this popular moderate bowl and really enjoyed the snow, camaraderie, trail breaking aid, and this fun shot of winter.
March19, 2008- I toured alone to a local peak to creek chute in anticipation of skiing a bigger line tomorrow and found enough new snow to cause concern. I got a Compression test reading of CT5@6" deep and CT21@15" deep and was therefore nervous of slab activity. I roped up and tromped around at the head of the run ski cutting, jumping and stomping on anything that even slightly resembled a trigger, and I could get nothing to happen at all, even a sluff. The slab bonded well to itself and to the underlying layer despite the low CT score. This 45 degree starting zone will be a likely candidate for tomorrow after the next 6-8 inches.
March 18- I was sent these fine photos of skiing peak to creek in the Bitterroot on Sunday. Thanks Karl for sharing your photos with us.
March17th- Today I was truly blessed. I went out for another fun tour and had the wildlife sighting of the winter for me. I started off by trying to find these two chutes in file photo right, but without this photo forgot about the viewers right one and ended up skiing a thousand vertical in it. It was challenging with frozen chunks littering the slopes. With some new snow softened by the sun it was manageable and even fun. I booted back up to the ridge and then descended the north facing skiers left hand gully of this twin feature. The snow was better than when I was here March 12th and though I had no human partner it was really fun to have Pearle on the tour. She has a bit of fear of the steeps but once into it she looked and acted a natural. At the bottom of the run we cut fresh wolf sign and then spent about twenty minutes following the trail. Just as I had given up following and was resting in the woods about two hundred feet above the trail, another solitary wolf came into sight downhill between me and the trail. Pearle and I watched this wolf walking upcanyon for about five minutes until it disappeared around a ridge. It never knew we were there and try as I did to get some photos they are are no good. Too much brush, trees and camera shake. I was really excited and Pearle just sat quietly watching. The snowpack today was as it has been for awhile now. Settled with a little bit of new, up to 2-3 inches. The steep north slopes were sluffing but despite the wind which was blowing pretty hard from the northwest there were no slabs formed yet. All the old powder under the sluffs was skiing nicely and soft. No fractures noted anywhere. On the south there was not enough new accumulated for wet slides to be much of a concern.No surface hoar noted either as the new snow keeps drifting in every day or so.
March 15th- Colin and I made it out again today to ski a great and challenging big line in the Bitterroots. Staying on North faces was the best idea today and when we hit east faces, there was a noticeable crust under the new 6-10 inches of snow. Once we got an a true north face the snow was sluffing more and faster but was also much nicer and with a soft base. The Bitteroots have a notable amount of peak to creek runs up to 4000 vertical and accessible from the front country. With this years great snow pack, it has been really fun taking full advantage of the opportunity to ski many of them. Every day out seems to uncover another sweet line. Our line today ended in another rollover ice fall that we had to skirt to the left. Stability has stayed moderate and the most hazardous snow out there has been the sluffs. Watch out for them and after a few turns on steep terrain head out for a turn and let it pass with you just out of its falline. Today the debris left over was soft and deep and fun if a bit challenging to ski. We encountered some fog hugging our run but mostly clear visibility other than that and after our initial descent while climbing back for the finale it was clear, if not sunny.
March13th- The weather was mostly clear of snow clouds today until midday as the forecasters predicted. With light snow moving into the mid and upper elevations at Downing Mountain by noon, the skiing proved to be still very good especially on north faces. I was out with a partner today, Colin Chisholm, which was a welcome change from the passed week of tours. We skied many north and east facing aspects and only found a light crust on the east faces above 7500'. Crusts were developing well below 7500 on east to southeast aspects. Sluffing was minimal and the snow was quite settled and fast. No new surface hoar was noticed today or yesterday so I am hopeful with the storm moving in quite warm that bonding will be good with whatever this series of storms provides. Having skied numerous terrain features in the 35-45 degree range this passed week, the avalanche hazard has diminished to moderate. Isolated windslabs may be still present and be careful of your sluff, ski to the sides and use continued vigilance as this new storm enters the area and deposits new snow. I did receive some reports of folks with midscores in their pits and rutschblocks indicating that north faces are still susceptible to slab hazard from last week's deposit of 12-18 inches. This will increase a bit over the next few days as up to 6 inches of snow is forecast for the higher terrain through Saturday.
File photos not from today...I forgot my camera battery. Oh well guess I will have to go back!
March 12- Another bright and sunny day for a sweet tour into the Bitterroot. I was tipped off to a safe exit to this prime twin gully ski on a north facing slope in the Bitterroot front country. These twin couloirs are hidden from view in the valley and in the canyon, so seeing them is a lucky venture up onto the adjacent ridge to the north. I had first seen this line four years ago but knew it ended in a 20 foot waterfall so had neglected to chase it down. With the tip, I was off and it proved to be one of the better lines I have skied recently, though they have all been really good. It has a steep entrance into either chute and then it tones down for a full 2800 or so before rolling over into the waterfall section. I approached quite close that I could see that given deep powder conditions, skiing the upper falls would be a manageable leap/schuss. Down and out the canyon was quick and fast on the one inch of new snow. At the summit, (8000 feet), north facing powder was still deep and good, though easily sluffing. East and south aspects had been cooked here and were quite crusty with the inch to two on top. There was some variable breakable crust on the east aspects but mostly supportable. The wind had not affected the snow surprisingly as it had blown hard at home yesterday at 4000. The skiing was very good for about 1500 vertical before frozen snow cookies and variability encroached. Overall a great day in the mountains.
March 10th- Weather being perfect, I planned another biggish day in the mountains. I was nervous about my choice and if I could have fallen back asleep at 5 am I might have. As it was, I could not get this line out of my head as well as the changing weather factor. I definitely have learned over the years that if ski conditions are good, it's best to go now not knowing when it will be good again. I toured up another Bitterroot Canyon a couple of miles before turning into a side gully and working my way up the north face eventually ending up on the summit ridge at around 7600. The snow surface was shallow and variably wind whipped powder. Traveling was excellent and I made good time. The ridge had a huge rock on it that posed some difficulty in navigation but using the west side, then slipping through a chimney and using the east side I was able to make it very close to the summit of this inspiring Alaska style peak. I chose a line off a sub ridge that had a slight northerly aspect to it and this fact had already saved it from sloughing from the morning sun. Hand pits and some slope cutting showed the stability to be improved from the 6th as one would expect with all this quiet warmth. It had not yet warmed enough at 10:30 for there to be a wet snow hazard at 8500'. There was plenty of evidence of recent sloughing from rocks on this steep east face. Skiing it required dodging slough and I pulled out after the first 10 turns on an island to let it pass. Hugging the northerly aspect I made my way to the bottom and then skinned up the other side to take advantage of good photo vantage and to then ski out the Bitterroot face back to the trailhead. I ran into some tracks on my descent passed a small lake and then onto the lower elevations where snow is rapidly disappearing especially below 5000 feet. Where is that next big storm of two-three feet? We need it now.
March 6- The weather cleared out today and left one of the most beautiful ski days of the year for me. I followed the retreating ceiling up into the high peaks and as I reached the summit ridge the weather cleared out fully, leaving me in brilliant sunshine. What a great day. The new snow was shallow at low elevations but deepened to 15-18 inches in loading zones below ridges. It was skiing superbly having settled out nicely after the storm with little wind. Soft slabs and wind slabs may still be encountered with the deep new snow. Be especially careful of rollovers in steeper terrain. South faces were wet sliding in the afternoon under my skis at lower elevations.
I have had mixed reviews on the website and its content this season. While some people are happy to see the advocacy and have some guidance on Bitterroot tours others feel that I am giving away the goods and diminishing other's opportunities for exploration. I have tried to keep the tour descriptions somewhat vague and not include maps for just that reason. I have struggled over this content. I think it is important that folks work not only physically for their turns but also with the maps and visual cues. I also believe that the Biterroot and other great ski ranges need advocates willing to share experiences with others as well as the land managers. I have been involved in the travel plan update on the Bitterroot National Forest and have realized through the process and talking with the managers, if we do not tell them what is happening on the forest, then they will not know. In the Wilderness this is not so much a problem as this land is Congressionally off limits to any motorized use or lodge development. I am a big advocate of Wilderness. As we know though, much of the front country is not W, and therefore is open to forest management plans updated every 10-20 years. With the advent of high powered ATVs and Snow machines, we see off trail use escalating on the forest like never before. As skiers, if we wish to maintain areas free from machinery on the W boundaries and off trail, then we need to advocate for it as our civic responsibility. Some forests have gone to road and trail use only for snow machines. The Bitterroot Forest is not one of these and has some areas open to off trail snowmachine use on both the east and west sides. I think that the new proposed off trail closures and leaving the main roads open to snow machine use is a decent compromise. One off trail place they left out of closing however is the off trail basin of McCalla Creek, high on the flanks of St Mary's Peak and adjacent to the Wilderness boundary. I overlooked this detail in my study of the planning maps and regret not commenting on it during the first round of comments. There will be another chance next year after the DEIS is released. Hopefully I remember then.
The most significant new proposed closure for snow machines is the Kidney Lake/ Camas Peak closure. Many thanks to those who wrote in and worked for this proposed closure as it will preserve one of the highest quality day trip ski areas in the Bitterroot. The proposed closure is at the pass from Hayes Creek to Kidney Lake. The lower trail will remain open to Camas Lake and then will be closed upstream from there. This is a major victory for quiet use proponents. My first trip to Camas Peak was after the machines had hit the lake and peak hard. Since then I have been there many times and enjoyed the basin much more without their company than with it. I have seen them race on the lake and wondered how much oil and gas is entering our watersheds from these dirty machines. When I mentioned this fact to the FS they mentioned that aesthetics and input from the backcountry skiers was the main reason for the proposed closure. I wrote a comment that with increased traffic off trail and especially on lakes, much of the pollution from the machines exhausting down into the snowpack remains in the snow and melts out entering the watershed in what were until a few years ago pristine mountain basins. I have no problem with the machines staying on designated road/trail routes, but when they enter sensitive watershed habitat, I believe that the impacts to the public watershed and fisheries is not appropriate for our National Forest lands.
Back to the website. In deference to those folks who feel I am giving away too much and to preserving the wild in wilderness, I propose not to discuss specific locations in the reports page anymore. Photos will be offered as eye candy. If you know where I was great, if you want to know where a photo was taken email me, if you want to figure it out yourself great too. Selfishly as well, I do not want to struggle all day to reach a spot that I have exposed to find tracks there already. But I do want to advocate for wild snow skiing and a love of our wild Bitterroot backcountry. Can you guess where I was yesterday? Furthermore if any reader is interested in posting their own reports on the website with photos, I would be happy to collaborate. So far I have had quite a few folks send in reports and stability assessments which is great. Feel free to ask me to post or not. Photos are always greatly enjoyed and if you want to keep me guessing where you were, all the better. Thanks to all for the thoughtful feedback this season. Maybe by next season I will have a forum figured out for the site. I use Dreamweaver 2, if anyone out there knows how to set that up I would be grateful for a tutorial
March 4- Went to Mill Peak today and skied a south line from the summit. There was considerable new snow especially above 6000 feet. On the north aspects the new slab, about a foot deep, lies on top of two weak surface hoar layers. We thought about a warmup run to Tag alder Lake but the snow stability seemed marginal on the steeper north faces, and with the deep trail breaking we were tired. Last week I noticed what looked like tracks at the summit and I saw them again in the runout to Blodgett Creek. Nice to see others out skiing these tremendous lines filled in this year for the first time in a decade.
March 3- Headed up to Downing Mountain today for a few runs. It was staying below freezing at all elevations and there was no ski glop which was nice. Partly cloudy and with a good wind blowing at the ridgetop we opted for lower angle off ridge terrain. I dug a hasty pit on the north facing slope we were skiing and found two PRONOUNCED hoar frost layers one 12 cm deep and the next 5 cm deeper. It was easy to see the hoar frost at the interfaces and the upper layer was immediately reactive in a tilt test when I tilted the column exposed on the shovel to 35-40 degrees. The second layer pulled out with subsequent medium taps on the bottom of the shovel. The tilt test consist of isolating a column of snow and then removing it from the pack with the aid of the shovel blade. While balanced on the blade, tilt the snow to 35 degrees and tap the bottom of the shovel lightly then medium to expose upper snowpack new snow weaknesses. This is a very effective test for weaknesses in the upper 50 cm of snow. There was about 15 cm of new snow and then another 5-10 cm of soft powder underneath before the four fingers base on north faces. East faces had a solid crust 10-15 cm deep. Conditions were fast and good. Lower elevations had refrozen nicley and were supportable with warmed powder on corn base. Lower snow pack retreating rather rapidly at this point with many openings around trees, bushes, rocks etc. The forecast is calling for up to another foot of snow by tomorrow night with accompanying strong winds in the northwest flow. The potential for windslab avalanches tomorrow and wednesday on winded exposures is likely to be considerable.
March 1- Jenny went up to LT again and found four inches of new snow blowing in during the morning. Base still fairly soft and not too crunchy.
February 29th- Jenny and I went for the day to Lost Trail to ski and check backcountry conditions. With off and on sun, south faces warmed up nicely and where a base was solid, skiing was good. East faces and north held the powder at higher elevations and on steeper slopes. Some wind scouring had affected the lower elevation open slopes and everything at lower elevations was receiving some good warmth. Overall a good day of skiing at higher elevation.
February 28th- Weather forecast on track with high snow levels with limited moisture. I went for a small plane flight this morning with Don Lange who has just earned his private pilot's license. We had a nice view of the mountains before the ceiling lowered and the views up the canyons was spectacular as always.Well filled in was my thought as I gazed at many full peak to creek runs up Blodgett and Mill Creek Canyons. Hoping hard for that cold front this weekend.
February 27th, 2008- We made it out for one quick run before the wind started and we found fast settling snow and warm conditions to the ridge at 8000 feet. The snow in the shade and on east to north aspects was staying powdery all the way to 6000 feet. Sloughing was not happening at all today on steeper terrain as it was warming and encouraging bonding. Forecasted warmth looks to be on track today and the backcountry will be a bit marginal for the next couple days, but do not take my word for it, head out and check for yourself, find those north facing higher elevation stashes.
February26th, 2008- Yesterday's snow settled out and cooled down nicely overnight and today's skiing was superlative, cold dry one foot deep. It bonded well to the underlying base on all aspects with little wind and was sloughing less than expected on steep 40 degree terrain. Paul Maudine and I made a trip into the Bitterrroots and enjoyed three lovely bowls in the frontcountry. At midwinter there is now about 8 feet of snow widespread over the terrain. With the perfect amount of powder on top of a well settled base, touring season is well underway. The next few days are supposed to warm up a bit, skunking the snow but by Saturday a cold front is forecast to pass through and leave fresh snow and a cooler northwest flow. Here is to second winter hoping.
February 25th, 2008- With snow back in the picture since Saturday (today is monday) north faces have continued to hold good skiing. However the old snow was significantly facted and did not provide a good layer for the new snow to bond with now. The weather has come in quite warm which has helped to bond the new snow to itself and as best it can to the layers underneath. I skied another south facing line off Mill Peak today and found the new snow about eight inches of it was sloughing. 8000 foot temperatures were just under 30 degrees and the snow was coming in quite wet even at 8500. The sloughing was confined to steep slopes and ski cuts and no propagation was noted. It was piling up to a decent 3-4 foot depth though and would not be a good place for a ride. With temps forecast to continue warm, I will be seeking out higher elevation north facing terrain with tomorrows sun and hoping the new snow dries out overnight. The forecast is speaking of a vigorous cold front and snow on Saturday, let's hope for a change back to winter for a bit.
February 21, 2008- High pressure continues to hold over western Montana and with it stable snow conditions except on lower elevations where extreme warming has rotten the snowpack each afternoon. I toured to the summit of Saddle Mountain with the goal of skiing the east face to Camp Creek. Numerous tracks were in the northfacing slopes off the approach ridge. The south facing gut of Saddle Mountain had been skied on monday and the backcountry at Lost Trail was starting to look like it had some visitors. We skied from the summit off the north side to stay in the shade as the east facing windridge was wind spanked crust. We wrapped to the east face and skied the glades to the rollover, where the snow quality quickly deteriorated and the lines became constrained by cliff bands and steep chutes. We traversed looking for the route and then headed north to the lower glades to bypass the steep shots this time. Arriving at the creek bottom on another southbound traverse we scoped out the lines from below and eventually determined we had been at the best entrance above. Exciting terrain here for 2000 vertical.
Febraury 19, 2008 Touring up Mill Canyon grabbed me for four hours today and I was able to ski up between the first and second Mill Points to about 7500. The powder stayed good on this north facing terrrain especially above 6200 where I entered the basin. The crusty talus steep creek bed below afforded a fast and open approach to this hidden basin about two miles up canyon.
February 16, 2008 I went out for a tour up Blodgett Canyon to check on conditions. They were frozen and fast going and I made it to the Hidden Lake turn off in about two hours. Downhill and out was an hour at most. With three feet of settled snow in the canyon, many of the south facing runs off of Printz Ridge are filled in and getting close to being ready for corn snow. Only in the lower elevations has the full corn cycle happened.
Ward Mountain ridge west.
February 15-2008 Ridgeline temps rose to 35 degrees and all but north and protected east aspects developed crusts by afternoon. South faces were very warm at 8000, though cold snow was found three to four inches below the surface. Snow stabiltity was good on the cooler aspects, and with continued warming I would be suspect of south facing terrain that receives significant extra warming. The quality should be quite compromised other than when it is mashed potatoes skiing. Skin glopping was a problem as well restricting tourability. This week of settlement has been great for overall stability. Now for a few inches of powder and cool temps to hit the higher terrain. Outlook is for snow by Wednesday with significant warmth until then.
February 14, 2008- Spent the day in the field at Lost Trail Pass with Steve Karkanen from the West Central Avalanche Center. We did a number of pits and compression tests and a rutschblock and found a generally strengthening snowpack. The new 20-30 cm snow may still be suspect on steeper slopes near 40 degrees. We found evidence of a large slide that ran in the trees and down a narrow avy path on a NW aspect. The failure propagated on a very deep crust on top of facets layer only 30cm above the ground. The bed surface has subsequently had fresh snow deposits so conjecture was that it occurred sometime last week during the storm cycle. The slope was 38-39 degrees and well protected in gladed trees. The slab must have been generally greater than a meter as our adjacent pit was 160cm total. The skiing was fast shallow powder unseen this year so far. It provided high speed fun on low angled terrain. The occasional sunshine was a nice feature as well. This weekend should be a great weekend for the backcountry with light snow accumulations expected and moderate temperatures. Be careful on slopes that receive much solar gain this weekend. We noticed light accumulating surface hoar that will impact the stability with the next round of snow, watch for it where you regularly ski. Second Pit Movie adjacent to the old slab avalanche.
February 13, 2008- It rained steadily at my home near Hamilton after 10:00 pm. On the mountain today we encountered a breakable crust under another 2 inches of snow up to 6800 feet or so where the freeze line had been. From there on up to 8000 feet we had up to 6-8 inches of new soft powder on a slightly stiffer base from yesterday's meltdown and warm up. Our pit at 8100 feet on a 40 degree slope showed considerable hazard CT9@300 Q2 in 320 total snowpack, CT29@290 Q3. We were able to get the 20cm slab to subsequently slide in a slab about 100 feet wide which started in a 45 degree rollover chute and propagated in the slightly lower angled (35-40 degrees)open treed terrain below. We also dug a Rutschblock test at 7800 feet on a 25 degree slope that got a score of RB2@250 Q2 in 270 total snow meaning it released 20 cm deep as it was first stepped on. RB4@230Q2+. Apparently the new snow that came overnight formed a 20 cm slab that did not bond well with the underlying base. Be careful out there on slopes 35 degrees and steeper. Rutschblock Movie
February 11, 2008- Mountain temperatures cooled off some today with the passage of a weak cold front. Temperatures hovered around 20 degrees at 8000 feet. This is a marked contrast to the months of 5-10 degree temps we had at this elevation. At 5500, the snow was sticky and packable and at 4500 the meltdown was still in full swing with abundant slush. Skiing was great all the way to 5500 and there was about 6 inches of new snow on a crust to 6000 and then the crust was absent above this elevation. I dug a pit at 7000 feet and found 190 cm total snow. CT4@170 Q2; CT17@150 and 140 Q2;CT26@40Q2. There is abundant depth hoar in the lowest pack below 40cms that setup during the cold snap of January 20-25. The crystal size is large >2mm and very sugary though it looked as though it had gained some strength since last week. Above 40cm the pack is well consolidated with small <1mm crystals. In the upper elevations the weak ground layer is less prevalent. With snowpack averages hovering in the 120% range, we are indeed fortunate to be out skiing this season in what has become the best snow year in a decade. Low elevation snow may be at its best in twenty years. Keep skiing. Todays Snow Pit Movie.
February 10, 2008- The meltdown has arrived. With ridgetop temperatures and backcountry SNOTELS measuring temperatures above freezing, the snow should be settling rapidly and gaining strength. I took a short run in the backcountry at Lost Trail today and found well settled shin deep powder that was fast and fun to ski. Depending on how long the warmth lasts, this should strengthen the snowpack considerably in the long run. Be careful though with rapidly warming snowpack as before it freezes again it will be susceptible to failure. If free water begins percolating into the snow pack that will greatly increase hazard. Look for this event on sunny south facing slopes while the weather is warm. The touring season may be upon us if we receive light snow accumulations and additional strengthening of the snow pack. I was in Seattle last week and had time for a trip to the Outdoor Research factory where I managed to get a tour of the sewing floors and the seamtaping machines in operation. While they send much work off shore, their contract work is still done in Seatlle and it was great to see the gloves in various stages of manufacture and the sewers busy at their stations. The folks there were very kind to give me an unscheduled tour, if you are ever there I recommend a trip to their shop. Check out their website HERE
February 4, 2008- The snow has let up for a couple days now and we have made it through the High avalanche hazard advisory. Up on the hill today we dug a pit that showed some decent stability in the upper snow with one layer about 30 cm deep pulling out on a CT 9 as well as CT22 @140 in a 250 cm total cm pack.This weakness at 140 had a good clean shear and should be watched for later. Our extended coloumn test did not show propagation just releasiing in the shovel zone.We skied conservatively and found well settled perfect powder with no wind effect. There are some great movies on the various avalanche forecasting websites from Missoula, Bozeman and Sun Valley worth checking out to see how your pits compare to theirs.
January 31, 2008- Wow...there is up to two plus feet in the mountains now. Yesterday I was out in the backcountry on the Dawn to Dusk patrol skiing long runs and every one yielded slightly different conditions due to snow, sun and wind. We started with extra deep slightly slabby unsettled, progressed to settled and creamy, then to soft touchy windslab, and finished with stiffening soft windslab. It was an excellent day and maintaining hydration and food intake alongwith sticking to a moderate pace allowed me to head out again today in the blizzard conditions to enjoy great deep powder conditions at Lost Trail where they were claiming 21 inches since Sunday night. With the snow and wind filling in tracks almost as fast as they could be made the powder hounds were not disappointed this week. Be careful this weekend of windslabs as they are out there and sensitive at rollovers and filled in rocky patches and ridgelines. Even a small slide can wreck your day. Look carefully about 50-75 cm down in your pit for the hoar frost from our cold snap. If you have it in your area be especially cautious. Stack and eight tracks on the edges of avy terrain, choose your destination based on the availability of safer terrain. Post a lookout and ski one at a time from island of safety to island of safety. Read the latest avy forecast.
January 29, 2008- Yesterday our pit yielded moderate compression results on a 26 degree slope of CT16 @195 and 185 cm from the ground, Q2 shears. Overall snow depth 240cm making the new snow about 50 cm deep with one weakness in the new snow. The deeper hard slab layers were taking a lot of compression to fail but were still active and planar at 135 and 100 from the ground. There was significantly more depth hoar at the ground that must have formed during the cold weather last week that lasted for a week. The snow had gone at the ground almost to fist softness. I could not detect any surface hoar in the interface with the new snow and surmised that the warmer wind that blew in before the accumulation began may have rounded, broken and reduced this widespread weakness to isolated pockets. The snow was deep yesterday and not well settled. Today the snow had settled nicely on NE aspects and was skiing perfectly with a very even consistency and still deep. No signs of instability. I did receive a report of a 16" windslab avalanche running 1500 vertical on steep north facing terrain after a deliberate ski cut. It sounded like the slab was isolated in otherwise good avalanche terrain, but did not propagate to the whole bowl.
January 27, 2008: I received a report of as much as a foot plus of new snow blew in last night with the front whereas at Lost Trail Pass there was no more than 2-4 inches. More tomorrow after a trip up the hill.
January 24, 2008: What beautiful weather the last few days with inversions keeping valley temperatures brisk, the mountains meanwhile have been basking in sunshine and mid 20's! Greg Tollefson's article today in the Missoulian captured the spirit of wintertime in western Montana. La Ninas only come occasionally and this year is one of those. We have had good snow coverage and freezing temps almost continuously since Thanksgiving. Golf courses are holding their snow, the field behind my house is better cross country than ever before in the passed five years and the low elevation snowpack is making backcountry powder skiing accessible to 4500 feet on a solid base. So if you are into the winter, revel in it today and this season as who knows what next week let alone next winter will blow into our area. I have often lived by this dictate and no matter what, some of us seem to find good snow to ski but this year it is in everyone's backyard. I went out to Downing Mounatain again for a run the passed couple days and the snow has been exceptionally dry, powdery and today with a beautiful if dangerous for the future layer of tinkling surface hoar. With the forecast expecting light snow the next few days, I was happy to get out and enjoy the sunshine one last time under this ridge of exceptional arctic weather. Beware any new snow accumulation as surface hoar will be widespread and rarely affords a good bonding surface with new snow. Wind can break it down as can sun but none of those was much of a factor on NE slopes today. Tomorrow is the next avalanche advisory be sure to check it out for current stability assessment of local conditions. With light snow in the forecast for the end of week and weekend, it may be that we are coming into a more moderate avalanche danger cycle for the time being until our next significant storm.
January 20, 2008: With half a foot of snow, cold temps and demo day at Lost Trail it was a good choice for Sunday's ski. The Trailhead Store had this year's models of tele and AT Boots and a wide assortment of skis available for test run. I took out a pair of Dynafit Zero Fours and Atomic Kailas 174s. It was an excellent setup and the skis performed as well as I have come to enjoy from Atomic. I was not able to compare them to anything but the Rossignol XXX I was sking that day, which I like very much for the ski area. The Kailas performed a bit better with a smoother initiation and ride. There was no deep snow to try them but for all condirtions, steeps and crud they were an excellent choice for the hour. A good replacement it seems to the TMEX and Kongur. Temperatures were running between -7F and 5F with a light but steady wind from the north making any exposed skin a possible hazard. The new snow with cold temperatures, especially windloaded snow on south aspects may become reactive to human triggers again. South faces are now in prime condition for skiing with sunny cold weather sure to preserve the powder for a few days at least.
January18, 2008: I went out for a tour at Little Downing Mountain today and amidst snow showers and the occasional fog bank made some turns. The new snow is light and fast on top of the windslab from Monday. The conditions were good on east to north aspects with no indications of instability. The layers are still there with the 120 cm layer the densest interface. With a total of 210 the 90 cm layer on top of December's crust and hoar frost is deep and deadly when it releases. There were some small windloaded small releases probably from Monday night that did not propagate much and came to a stop on 30 degree north east terrain below the ridgetop. Definitely the deepest snowpack at mid elevations I have seen in ten years. Enjoy the weekend and be careful. Ski the edges of steep terrain with a safe exit available, be hyper conscious of terrain features and remain on the sides of potential releases, ski with a partner one at a time and watch each others back.
January 17th 2008: Snow continued to fall regionwide today ensuring high quality surface conditions. Beware additional loading on weak layers buried deep anywhere from 50-100 cm. When it fails it is catastrophic as witnessed in Whitefish last weekend. Saturday a storm is predicted to arrive with cold temperatures. Be careful in this cycle as any windloading could easily tip the balance again into the Considerable to High avalanche hazard. Again please check the latest forecast for west central Montana http://www.missoulaavalanche.org/weekend.htm
January 16, 2008-
Mill Point grabbed our attention again and after the mandatory 4500 ski ascent we scoped out the line running southwest from the summit down between the Flathead Buttress and the Shoshone Buttress. The entrance proved steep and dangerous and we opted for the long, safer ski line southeast down the broad apron visible from the valley. Avoiding the avalanche gully in the center, we skied right, on the broad ridge feature which is still plenty steep in the 30-35 degree realm. Again we were able to ski from Peak to creek in an excellent 3800 foot run. The conditions had deteriorated from last week leaving us with true backcountry skiing conditions ranging from deep powder to windswept breakable crusts and ice covered slab rocks below on the Blackfoot dome. This excellent advanced tour ends with a fast schuss out the canyons trail on the well packed route screaming into the parking lot to jam on the brakes next to the subaru. With the excellent coverage in low elevation terrain this south face is set up better this year than in many and we are making sure to catch these lines while they last. Our assumption that south faces may be handling the weak layers better was proved unjustified by our pit results where we encountered clean shear surfaces at 90 cm (CT20) and 50 cm (CTH) in a 140 cm total snowpack at 8300 ft on a SE aspect 100 feet below the ridge. With the obviously dangerous lingering instability, we decided it would be a good season to scale back and work harder at being extremely route conscious and in control of our passion to explore the many new lines in the Bitterroot Range.
January 7, 2008-
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Don Lange and I ventured out to the south facing chute between the Kootenai Buttress and the Nez Perce Spire in Blodgett Canyon today and were rewarded with a 4000 foot run in good condition until the last 500 vertical. We had been eyeing this line for years and had skied the apron before. The line proved better from the surface than from afar and the consistent fall line at the bottom of the gully was filled in just enough to allow the passage with fresh tracks for two to three skiers. Pearle, the wonder dog, did not want to follow us down into the chute which required a eight foot mandatory air below the entrance and she abandoned us for the skin trail back down the ramp. She showed up at home around 6 pm, savvy dog.
January 6, 2008-
Some new snow blew in today to the central and northern bitterroots and should have made ski surfaces better where it was not blown off. Waiting for the next cycle of storms, I have been busy loading quicktime movies to the website. You can find them on the individual tour pages or at the link above.
January 4, 2008-
The wind came and stiffenened up the snow on all aspects at Lost Trail pass. We took a run on the north facing glades behind Chair four and found wind crust for 100 vertical before soft snow was encountered. It was foamy powder at best for the reaminder of the gladed run and in the open below was wind spanked as well. I dug a pit just below the wind crust about 100 feet below the ridge and found 120 cm total and some very well developed facted snow starting at 50 cm depth. This snow is very poorly bonded to itself and to the overlying hardslab making hardslab avalanches a concern on open slopes and defined avalanche paths. The wind howled all day though most snow was settled and therefore transport had already happened.
January 2, 2008-
What a great December we had for snowfall. With the La Nina index fairly strong, these might be the winters we wish to save our legs. However the backcountry has been hazardous since the accumulation of powder on the weak December 5th crust and facets reached critical mass at the middle of the month. Reports of skier triggered avalanches came from Lost Trail Pass , Downing Mtn, Gash Pt, and Snowbowl. Skiing at Lost Trail and Snowbowl areas has been phenomenal and I made one foray into the backside plunge from chair four into some extremely deep and fluffy powder. I was out on New Years Eve at LT Cair 4 and skied some of the deepest on area powder.
Today found us back at our regular Bitterroot backcountry skiing haunt on low angle north facing at first after our pit showed lingering and springloaded instability at 110 cm which was 90 cm deep. We turned our attention to the south face and found well settled and fairly consistent powder on a great 2000 foot fallline. At the bottom at 6000 ft the snow was becoming moist from the warm up and wind and will be breakable crust by morning. Nailing down the right conditions to ski south facing powder can be difficult. By and large not letting more then a day or two of sunny weather touch the slopes seems to be a guiding principle. Weak December and January sun helps limit crust development. Today after one full day of high pressure the south faces were settled but still excellent powder skiing. As many of the south facing lines in the Bitterroots are filling in this may be a good season to ski some of the lines that other years have been melted.
December 19th, 2007-
Beware, HIGH hazard with an additional 6 inches of snow on the mountains the steeper slopes had loaded to the tipping point and on our tour we released one small avalanche on surface hoar on the bed surface above the old slab from the rain/melt event of 12-3/12-5. This avalanche was about 2 acres and on a due north aspect and ran on a 38 degree slope for 40 yds to a bench where it stopped. Our pit did not show a high hazard. CT27Q3 @140 cm (40 cm deep) on a 32 degree test slope in a glade at the bottom of the ski run. From the ridge we reached soon afterwards, we triggered a much larger slide on the north face which wrapped around tothe east face to release this larger face which slid to the toe of the slope 500 vertical below. Again the slope angle was right around 40 degrees and it released on the bed surface 40-60 cm deep at the interface with the old slab from our warm wet event of 12-3/12-5.The fracture line hugged the rocky ridge leaving little hangfire. The trigger point on this second slide was specific to a crossloaded slope right at the rocky ridge drift interface. The release was slow to accelerate and slowed on 30 degree terrain. On the east aspect where the slope is more sustained for 500 verticcal it ran much larger and piled up at the bottom. Safety reminder: despite a stable looking pit, continue to follow safe travel procedures especially only exposing one person at a time to avalnache possibilities, and be diligent in your route finding to eliminate exposure as much as possible if not hopefully altogether.
Please read the latest forecast from the West Central Avalanche forecast Center http://www.missoulaavalanche.org/weekend.htm
Upper left: avalanched bowl in good conditions in another year. Middle shows fracture line of smaller north aspect slide. Right shows western
boundary of larger avalanche. Lower left showing main bowl with fracture line to right. Lower right: debris pile at toe of slope.
December 18, 2007-
Yesterday's storm added an additional 2-4 inches of nice light density snow to the powder already on the hills. Reports from the Bitterroot and Lost Trail indicate 4-6 feet of snow at the tops of the mountains and great surface skiing conditions.1-2 feet of settled snow persists in the front country at lower elevations. With the heavy crusts here the snow is supportable and skiable with the new snow on top.The avalanche hazard has been lessening due to deeper snow, moderate temperatures and light windloading. The west central Avalanche forecast produced their first advisory this weekend rating the hazard from low to moderate on steeper windloaded terrain. With continued short waves in the forecast, skiing conditions should continue to improve as coverage gets better. Many of the Bitterroot trails are snowpacked with up to two feet of snow making touring conditions good into canyons like Blodgett.
Early December 2007-
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The ski season is well underway with reports coming in from numerous locations in the Bitterroot Range of good skiing conditions and with the heavy, wet storm from early this week the mountains above 6500 were plastered with a snowpack that will stay through the season. Crusts had developed with the rising mountain temps and we were favorably blessed wednesday night with a shortwave feature that produced snow to the valley floors again.
After the new snow was skied off at LT on thursday Don Lange and I went for a tour to the ridge to dig a pit and check out the off-piste conditions. The pit was 185 cms deep, in a loaded area at the top of the sharkfin, impressive and showing signs of strengthening following the major loading from the storm. The dust on crust was mangaeable and fun especially on low angled terrain.
Last week we toured twice to St. Mary's where these pictures were taken. Much windloading on the second day out 11-27 alongwith a storm which had alternately scoured and windloaded the bowls with 6-12 inches nice light density snow. It seems that at this point, December 7th that there may be anywhere from 2 feet at 6000 feet to 6 feet at the tops of ridges and exposed bowls. Snowline did retreat to near 7000 feet, so logging roads should be treacherous below 6000 feet and probably snowed in above there. The roads to Lolo Peak and St. Joseph peak are closed for the season until May 15th or thereabouts. If you are using the logging roads remember to chain up all four, carry emergency equipment (shovel, tow strap, cumalong, booster battery, axe and extra clothing), and let someone know where you are going and when to expect you back.
The Bitterroot Forest is having openhouse meetings to discuss the newest travel map on January 9, 10, and 15. Call the BNF (821-1217) or other numbers for info on these meetings locations and times. This is our chance to discuss potential new road closures to snowmachines and to show support for the backcountry ski community.
The continued weather forecast is unsettled with the next storm forecast to impact our area on Monday and then again wednesday. Time will tell.
Remember to use as much sense as possible while travelling in the backcountry. If you do get hurt keeping yourself warm will be difficult as we rely on activity to help us with that on most tours. Side with caution and take time to dig a pit in a representative location and to ski one at a time and defensively.
Check the westcentral avalanche info page (http://www.missoulaavalanche.org/weekend.htm) for the current hazard rating starting December 14th and cross check with the Gallatin National Forest daily advisory (http://www.mtavalanche.com/current/index.shtml) as well as the one in SunValley (http://www.avalanche.org/~svavctr/adv_current.php) for regional clues to stability. Check the Snotel sites(http://www.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov/snotel/) to see what has been accumulating and the temperature profiles and read the weather pages offered by the Missoula National Weather Service Office (http://www.wrh.noaa.gov/mso/avalanche/). Avoid the town/ski area vortex and get out into the backcountry...its quiet there.
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Don Lange skis from the summit of St. Mary's through the rock patches and down the bowl passed the lake to the frozen swamp in the basin below.