Spatial Variability: A Love Story

Monica, enjoying a beautiful, introspective tour.

It’s mating season in the High Country: all around I see the blossoming of new, survive-the-cold-of-winter romances, as well as (in my case) the bidding adieu to love past and passed. The stakes are high and our hearts, like a sketchy Colorado snowpack, are a veritable battleground of subtle yet dynamic, and powerful yet mysterious energies.

Last week I went for a tour with my friend Monica, who was in town to take her Level I avalanche course. As usual, the chug-a-chug rhythm and aerobic endorphins of steep skinning induced a good, philosophical heart-to-heart chat: my recently lost relationship, her recently budding-but-complicated relationship, relationships past and what we learned, relationships yet to come and what we hope. We climbed fast and between rapid breaths we chopped out the big questions of our day: “Why…doesn’t…he…just…tell me…” and “Maybe…she…needs…more…stability…” Over water and snacks, we had more continuous conversation: “I’m just not sure where this leaves me…” and “What are you looking for?”

What, indeed?

Second Bowl: The open face with the dispersed trees slid about 200 vertical feet below us as we stood on top.

As Monica and I topped out on [Read More]

Level 2: The Level after Level 1

Snow geekery at its finest. Note the shovel placement to keep those centigrade dial stem thermometers nice and accurate. Is that a 90-degree corner? Why yes it is. Thank you for noticing.

I beat Level 2 of Avalanche Education last week. The end boss was real hard. I had to get all funky and whip out an up-down-left-left-A-B combo, front flip over the avalanche path of death, and then memorize about 12 gazillion codes and acronyms, BIWWWI (but it was well worth it). ILAT (I learned a ton). And I got to splurge on some new fancy, SST (snow study tools).

I couldn’t have asked for a better learning environment. In Crested Butte, the trailheads and field labs (a.k.a Sick gnar pow slopes) are only a 5-minute drive from the classroom. It’s the next best thing to a hut trip course. Plus, CB finally got a bunch of the white cold stuff that makes our world go round – that’s right, snow. Good old fashioned frozen water that falls from the sky. So we got to tromp around in the backcountry measuring the weather and digging snow pits while the second-largest slide cycle I’ve witnessed boomed, whumphed and [Read More]

Cameron Pass Conditions January 11th

On Saturday around noon a large chunk of the N/NE face of S. Diamond slid. This is the third year in a row this slope has avalanched. Apparently it was a busy day up there; skiers and riders were farming turns on Ptarmigan Run, kids were hucking jumps at the base of Main Gully, and countless parties were traversing the bench below the face. Fortunately no one was caught in the slide. It is still unclear whether the avalanche was natural or remotely triggered by a party skiing along the ridge or down on the bench. [Read More]

Return to Castle Creek

Two years ago, the alpine bowls and tributary valleys of Castle Creek conspired with snow and gravity in a failed attempt to assassinate me and 10 of my good friends. I don’t blame them. [Read More]

Cameron Pass Conditions, January 5th

I made it up to the pass twice this week and found safe and stellar skiing on both occasions. As everyone knows, this season’s snowpack is delicate and reactive. We have a widespread issue with depth hoar that will likely plague us for months to come, and the complexity of the snowpack can drastically differ from location to location. Digging around on various aspects in different drainages near Cameron Pass I saw very little in common pit to pit. One constant was a large (35-65cm) bed of FC (faceted crystals) beneath various layers of / (Decomposing and fragmented precipitation particles) and + (Precipitation Particles). [Read More]