James and I are up in the Sawtooths in Idaho this weekend. Currently racking up for this magnificent beast.
As we expand the focus here beyond just Berthoud Pass to include the rest of Colorado and bigger lines all around the west I wanted to make sure that what this project started as, an online guidebook to Berthoud Pass, remains a priority and an easily accessible resource. To that end, today we launched BerthoudBackcountryBeta.com (go on, click over there, it will open in a new window). It may look familiar (i.e. exactly the same) and it will never be anything more than Berthoud Pass beta, lines, pictures, route descriptions, and trip reports. There is obviously still work to do getting pictures and descriptions up for the rest of the lines on there. Being based out of Grand County, Berthoud will continue to receive more focus than any other particular area, but as we expanded our scope I didn’t want the Berthoud Beta to get lost in the shuffle.
You might also notice a new Google Earth view. In my opinion, this is the easiest and best way to actually get a feeling for a line, and hopefully helps people more easily make good decisions about where they want to ski.
Set out with a few friends to ski the area I call The Playground in Flora Creek this afternoon. The wind was ripping from the west, gusting up over 50 mph, and transporting a lot of the new snow we just received. Ryan and Alex, in an attempt to get out of the wind ducked down off the ridge and into the drainage higher up than I did, transitioned, and began to make their way over towards the fun.
About 300 vert down they posted up on a small dirt ridge you can see in the pic above and waited for me. I rode down the ridge parallel to the cornice for a few hundred feet, rolled over the windlip, started to initiate a turn, and boom — I was immediately in a sea of fracturing snow. The crown, between a foot and 20 inches deep, was about 10 feet uphill of me and everything 50 feet in front of me and behind me was all sliding. Fortunately the slab was really soft and I had good momentum to the left, so I was able to ride out of it to a safe zone. But anytime you get caught in anything like that it really makes you reflect on what exactly happened leading up to and during the event.
In this case, the pocket of deep, top loaded, snow was relatively small. As it ran downhill the pitch mellowed out fairly quickly and there was only a couple inches of new snow on top of the old very consolidated and refrozen snow so it never picked up too much momentum and didn’t have the energy necessary to step down into a weaker layer in the older snowpack. The debris spread out leaving a very shallow debris pile no deeper than a foot throughout the majority.
If I were to look back and think about the decisions that lead to this, I would say we were distracted and annoyed by the wind, wanting to get down and out of the wind quickly without taking the time to assess what the snow was doing. On top of that the snow was great for this time of year so there was definitely a level of excitement about skiing powder two days removed from June. On top of that, I had definitely lowered my guard for this type of slide, focusing more intently for the last month on potential for wet slides.
Ultimately, all it takes is one day for us to be back in “winter” conditions, no matter how far along the transition to spring or summer snow we are. Stay safe.
CAIC Observation can be found here: https://avalanche.state.co.us/obs/obs_report.php?obs_id=19780
To me, this low grade cell phone shot epitomizes what I love about skiing Berthoud. In the background you can see much of the Current and Second Creek drainages, burnt out and brown from our lovely dust storm a month ago. But in the foreground you can see Ben White ripping down an untouched 3000 vert line that’s only an hour skin from the pass. No matter what the conditions are like, no matter what the avy danger is, there is always somewhere you can go that will yield fun, safe, usually untouched quality snow.
The end of March through the beginning of May totally redeemed our season. With many inches of high water content snow falling and sticking to everything the high elevation lines are in all time shape right now. Ben and I got out on Robert Creek this evening and hopefully will be heading over towards the infrequently skied Flora Creek drainage tomorrow.
A few more shots from today:
My most recent post for Kuhl’s blog is a reaction to the Sheep Creek avalanche last weekend. Instead of rehashing the situation as has been done over and over in different articles, forums, and blog posts by other people I wanted to reflect on the incident and provide some suggestions for managing risk that may be a little less conventional than what people normally think to do.
The pass is in rare form right now. Deeper than it’s been in 23 months and still skiing like mid-winter. The bigger lines terrify me right now, but there’s plenty of fun to be had close to the pass!
One of the fun and frustrating things about the Spring is trying to figure out what aspects are going to be good. The sun angle/strength at this point in the year is roughly the same as at the end of August… So even if it isn’t super warm you can get a lot of solar gain on the more south facing aspects and they can turn to crust pretty quickly. On the other hand, they can also turn to corn pretty quickly. You never know what you’re going to get.
On this day we took one lap on Southeast Russell and one on the North Chutes. The 6 inches from the night before had consolidated on SE Russell into perfect corn, and on the North Chutes it had blown in nicely and stayed out of the sun to give us nice boottop powder. Pretty insane how you can get such different (but both awesome) conditions only a hundred yards apart. Also worth noting that as things set up here on some of the bigger lines we’re over 350% of last years snowpack for this date… With another 6-12″ forecasted for Saturday night! The pass should hold pretty great “spring” skiing for at least another month and a half.
We’ve had a lot of good days up at the pass over the last few weeks and I’ve gotten way behind in what I wanted to post. Here’s a collection of shots from Saturday March 30th. We were able to hop on the North Chutes, Z Chute, X Bowl, and Corner Pocket. All around solid tour with good company. The bigger lines are prime right now, the snowpack has settled down quite a bit, the lines are really full, and there is still soft snow to be found. So … pretty much the opposite of this time last year.