Avalanche Course Season got underway this past weekend with the first-ever Avalanche Rescue course for NSOS. It was a beautiful, albeit low-snow, weekend for the course, and everyone walked away more confident in their rescue skills.
Winter is HERE! There have been a number of interesting observations mentioned by the CAIC in the statewide weather forecasts, including a skier triggered avalanche, and results from control work done by CDOT near Loveland. The regular zonal snowpack bulletins from CAIC haven't started yet, but the active community in our area have reported some very sketchy conditions in the Cameron Pass area.
Stubborn and persistent. This might sound like a lot of people you know. Right now, this is how our snowpack is shaping up for parts of Colorado.
Coverage continues to improve around the Front Range, deeper snow on most slopes, fewer logs in the trees, and somewhat less burning in the legs at the bottom of a few laps!
It stayed this temperate for a couple hours, until about 9am. It's hard to say that this kind of temperate doesn't significantly influence decisions throughout a tour. It can define where you tour, how you communicate, and how quickly a difficult situation can become a very serious situation.
As the coverage improves, as typical in January, Cameron Pass tends to get more and more busy. I've typically seen the height of traffic around the 2nd or 3rd weekend of January of each season, whichever is sunny and inviting. I was thinking about that today as we saw 5 or 6 other groups touring in the same zone today.
Nokhu Crags with cross loading building in the NW gullies. We saw one crown that was recent, but the wind was increasing throughout the day, as we typically see after a nice storm. It just can't leave well enough alone!
Noticed some riming at the ridgeline, on the tundra vegetation. This shows that the wind was blowing from the SW, which is no surprise, but also that the humidity was pretty high throughout the storm. It's not rare to have riming, but not super common in Colorado.
Ptarmigan tracks along the tour up, always fun to see. It reminded me that these little creatures live in a place most can't, and follow a pattern that doesn't make sense for most other critters.
Given the number of groups out, there's bound to be behaviors that an avalanche safety instructor can be critical of. Today though the one that stood out throughout the morning was tour groups being influenced by where others were touring. It's always important to remember to focus on your plans for the day, stick with your touring plan, even if others think you're crazy (kind of like the ptarmigans). On a day like this, there are also multiple avalanche problems, and it's important to apply the right data and techniques for what the problems are. Take or renew your avalanche course with NSOS staff at Cameron Pass this season and we can show you how to do this and play safe all winter.
Christmas Eve Slide on S Diamond
Well, it's happened again. How many times have we seen a similar picture from Cameron Pass? I can remember at least a dozen over the past 15 years, meaning that this is a regular occurrence on South Diamond Peak. Understanding the historical slide paths is one thing, but if you've skied in the area over the past month you've probably run across some avalanche red flags that should have brought this memory to the forefront of your thoughts. Apparently this very large slide was remotely triggered from above - how many people have traveled below this area in the past week?
This picture was taken the day before from an area on South Diamond Pk that didn't slide in Christmas Eve's avalanche.
Tracks on Ptarmigan on Dec 23, 2016. Just beyond those tracks, past the small patch of trees went to the ground for the next 1,000 feet. The total area that we toured in that day did not slide, but did that give us enough of a margin of safety? That's really a personal decision - but one that should be a conscious decision, not just happenstance or something we talk about in the debrief.
What might slide next?
Where might you trigger similar avalanches in the near future? A quick view of the CalTopo overlay of Hillmap.com can give us some idea of this. Of course this is not comprehensive, but for the zones that I see regularly skied at Cameron Pass, here's the ones that have a similar slope and aspect as the the Christmas Eve slide. 1 - the S Diamond Pk slide on 12.24.2016. 2 - Hot Dog Bowl, slightly more easterly facing, but similar elevation and slope. I helped extract the last fatality out of this zone in 2007 so I keep careful track of this zone for sure. 3 - Longest Run zone, slightly lower elevation, but same slope and aspect. Just because this is skied a lot does not make it safe! Recall the Paradise Bowl fatality of 2012. 4 - Braddock Peak, although this is typically a spring destination, take caution in case this is on your list for mid-winter this season. 5 - Braddock Ridge - this zone is less often skied, but fairly easy access. It's lower than S Diamond, but proximity should give weight to similar snowpack conditions.
Use this information, as well as any other info you can gather from CAIC, friends, forums, travelers, etc, to inform your tour decisions for this season. Is this problem going to go away? If you choose different terrain are you decreasing the hazard or your risk? Do you know the difference? If not, join us for a Level 1 Avalanche course this season where we teach courses right at Cameron Pass. Be careful out there!! Choose terrain wisely and understand where your decisions are leading you.