Holiday triggers

Christmas Eve Slide on S Diamond

Christmas Eve slide on South Diamond - Thank you Erick for the picture!

Christmas Eve slide on South Diamond - Thank you Erick for the picture!

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?

Cracking from a 15 meter wide collapse in the storm snow, dec 23, 2016

Cracking from a 15 meter wide collapse in the storm snow, dec 23, 2016

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 South Diamond Peak, Cameron Pass Dec 2016

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?

Topo map with slope overlay, highlighting similar slope/aspect zones from avalanche on Christmas Eve

Topo map with slope overlay, highlighting similar slope/aspect zones from avalanche on Christmas Eve

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. 

Ripping skins on N Diamond Peak, Cameron Pass Dec 2016

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. 

Early Christmas Presents

NSOS Staffer Chris getting it done on the second lap. 

NSOS Staffer Chris getting it done on the second lap. 

In the spirit of the season, today was a little cold, fairly tiring, and mostly gluttonous. Temps ranged in the mid 20's as we parked around dawn, heading up to take a look at the new storm snow. 

Sun rise is a great chance to stop and vet the options we came up with on the car ride. 

Sun rise is a great chance to stop and vet the options we came up with on the car ride. 

The storm dropped around 8-10" at higher elevations, depending on how the wind moved things around. There were stretches of sheer joyous fluff with scattered moments of breakable crust that threw us off our guard. Luckily I'll just share the joyous moments :)

Cracking through storm snow - Red Flags!

Cracking through storm snow - Red Flags!

We were kept in check by a few signs of instability, the most significant being some cracking left after a big whumpf. This appeared to break down into the new storm snow, which was sitting on a old wind slab from last week (can you say bedlayer?). 

I said it was mostly gluttonous, right? 

I said it was mostly gluttonous, right? 

So we stuck to lower angles and still found some great treats a few different elevations. 

Looking back South Diamond Peak and Lulu Mountain in the background - we're pretty lucky to have this playground in our backyard!

Looking back South Diamond Peak and Lulu Mountain in the background - we're pretty lucky to have this playground in our backyard!

I'm a firm believer that you can find good skiing almost any day of the season - if you're looking to be able to do this yourself, join us for an AIARE Level 1 Avalanche Course to start building your avalanche skills toolbox. 

The wind before the storm

My new Jetforce pack, finished charging with 4 lights on!

My new Jetforce pack, finished charging with 4 lights on!

I always want to go skiing, but after my new pack came, I couldn't help myself. I snuck up to Cameron Pass early the day before the storm, to test the pack and get some elevation under my legs. 

It was 34 degrees when I left town at 5am, and in the 50's in the narrows at 5:30am - kind of unnerving! It was back "down" to 32 at Cameron Pass, which should have felt warm except for the 25mph winds. 

Nokhu Crags from S Diamond Pk, Cameron Pass, Dec 2016

Toured up to the South Shoulder of South Diamond Peak, avoiding all the main slopes on a week like this. Every other skin track popped onto the bench before getting to the ridge line, which I try to avoid like the plague from December on, so I made a new one lower down until it hit the shoulder. 

With all the recent reports of close-calls in Colorado, like the accident at Rabbit Ears last weekend, I didn't want to take any chances. 

The conditions are definitely variable, with great skiing in the trees, but very wind affected at and above treeline. You can see the snow nuking off the ridgeline. 

It's a little windy!  Ridgeline gusts of 40+

It's a little windy!  Ridgeline gusts of 40+

Friday night and Saturday morning this weekend are under an Avalanche Watch for the Front Range - when I dug into the snow I didn't see any reason to think otherwise. I found pockets of graupel along with other wind affected layers - it's a great weekend to keep the conservative mindset for touring!!

snowpack, south diamond pk, Cameron Pass, Dec 2016

Play Safe this weekend if you head out!

December comes in like a lynx

Sunrise at treeline.   Cameron Pass, December 2016

Sunrise at treeline. 

Cameron Pass, December 2016

The quiet little house cat of November weather has grown up into a moderately sized, elusive, mountain animal. That is to say, things are definitely looking up, but we have a lot of room for improvement to be able to feel confident about the snowpack and be able to cover the bramble all the way to the parking lot. 

Sun coming up on South Diamond  Cameron Pass, December 2016

Sun coming up on South Diamond

Cameron Pass, December 2016

You can still see the avalanche debris piles just above the Diamond Bench, these were mainly from the second of two avalanche cycles on the South Diamond this season already. Those early season facets might not be done yet, just because a slope has released once (or twice) so far. 

Basal facets on a 3mm grid.   Cameron Pass Snow conditions, December 2016

Basal facets on a 3mm grid. 

Cameron Pass Snow conditions, December 2016

There's a lot more to assessing avalanche danger than just looking at snow crystals up close, but I still never get tired of doing it. These beautiful, yet terrifying snow grains will be with us for a while this season. Play safe in the mountains this winter!

End of November

The end of November is finally giving us enough flotation to keep away from rocks (well mostly) and trees (once I learn to steer again). There were reports of avalanches last weekend, which you can still see under 6-12" of new snow and wind deposits. 

Where'd the fluffy stuff go?   Backcountry skiing at Cameron Pass, early season, December 2016

Where'd the fluffy stuff go? 

Backcountry skiing at Cameron Pass, early season, December 2016

But the snow is skiing nice! Watch for rocks as always early season, it's not time to let 'er rip quite yet. I wish I had a pic of the core shot to prove who won the "find the first rock" contest. 

Lots of sugar down there.   Cameron Pass early season, December 2016 snowpit

Lots of sugar down there. 

Cameron Pass early season, December 2016 snowpit

The new snow is sitting on the early season sugar, proof again that the more things change the more they stay the same. I suspect that the slides from last weekend slid on the early season snow. How long will it take before this layer isn't a problem anymore?  I hate to say it, but maybe April.

Choosing to boot when the skin track has been partially blown away!  December 2016 Cameron Pass Backcountry Skiing Conditions

Choosing to boot when the skin track has been partially blown away!

December 2016 Cameron Pass Backcountry Skiing Conditions

We had the mountain to ourselves, but it's always good to remember that people are jonesin' to hit some pow (and likely rocks) this time of year. Choose your ascent and descent routes based on your own goals and comfort level, no need to follow others' tracks if you don't like how they look or where they go. Your inner voice might be the biggest factor in keeping you safe this winter.