Good skiing today in MacDonald West Shoulder and NRC Gully. I went with Audrey, Matt and Stu, three Banff locals. Audrey’s first day on a split board and she did great! As did the two fellows. There’s been a large avalanche down the main path of the run and quite a few skiers laying down lines between that and NRC. So it’s a bit tracked out right now and I wouldn’t go back to that spot til it snows again. My friend Alison was up on Dome Glacier and she said it was boot top and fine quality skiing. Read on for a synopsis on what seems to be going on with the snowpack right now.
We had a pretty heavy storm a few days ago that gave us a bunch of snow, warm temperatures and high winds. As a result there was a big avalanche cycle with slides up to size 4.5 – which is bigger than big, it’s humungous. These big ones are coming from high elevation north aspects where there is glacier ice, and this was the second storm that saw huge avalanches release so there is a bit of a trend going on. They need a pretty big trigger – a big storm event or artillery blasting from the avalanche crew. Chances of being in the wrong spot at the wrong time are pretty slim but man if you got in the way of one of those suckers you could kiss your ass goodbye. Just over a week ago one came down during a storm event from Mt Leda and filled in the Mousetrap in the Asulkan valley, which is a popular tour. So I guess the lesson here is stick to the trees and minimize your exposure time in the big runouts during storms until this sort of activity subsides. Not much else you can do.
The surface hoar layer that was active awhile back seems to be dormant for now. My last two trips to the Pass have not seen any reaction on this layer in steep treeline and below treeline areas. The main concern right now seems to be wind slabs in open areas in treeline and alpine zones. There was a report of an avalanche incident today in the Connaught Valley, possibly Grizzly Mtn/Grizzly Bowl area. This would probably have occurred on a wind slab. It is pretty simple to avoid this problem: if the slope is exposed to the wind and the ski quality is less than stellar then go somewhere else. The skiing is so good in the trees and glades right now that there is no need to try to do some sort of cool line in the alpine that has crap skiing.
If you go to the alpine pick your line carefully. As Alison showed on the Dome, there is good skiing up there. But you need to pick a feature that is sheltered from the wind rather than exposed to it. In Alison’s case she went to a sheltered east facing bowl where the westerly winds of the storm would not have affected the snow. She stayed low on the glacier to avoid the upper slopes that would have been loaded by the storm. It is all about good terrain choices, pick em right and you will get good, safe skiing.