Ski Mountaineering Guide Tip
Andrew Klotz – AMGA Ski Guide
Spring is here and the snow is stabilizing so it is time to hit the big lines that you’ve been waiting patiently for all winter. This is the first installment of a mulit-part series on getting kitted out for a multi-day ski mountaineering trip. Of course, the ideas also apply to single day outings as well.
Getting the most out of your spring skiing season also means being prepared with the right gear and tools for the job. Particularly with spring skiing, choosing the right gear on the right days can mean the difference between a fantastic outing and a day of “survival skiing”.
In addition to choosing your gear wisely, selecting the right aspect and timing your descent on that aspect is critical to both safety and enjoyment in the mountains during the spring season. As always, be sure to consult your local relevant avalanche forecast and utilize good terrain selection and travel techniques in the context of your objective for the day. Below are just a few considerations when it comes to gear for spring ski mountaineering:
Although fat skis are the rage, I think short narrow waisted skis are the ticket for ski mountaineering. They allow you to more directly pressure your edges and control your skins for difficult frozen morning upskins and give you the same direct edge pressuring confidence for technical descents. I like skis in the 70-80 mm waist range. It is also a good idea to get your skis a size shorter than you normally ride them. First short skis are lighter on your pack and on your feet. Second, they are more maneuverable in tight skiing conditions often found skiing technical lines. Finally, I think a shorter ski will give you more longitudinal control over the tip and tail, again, an important consideration for technical ascents and descents.
Go for a softer three buckle boot, possibly removing the powerstraps. This streamlined set-up makes the long days in the skin-track more comfortable and makes any technical climbing that you might need to do easier as you are able to move more naturally in a softer boot. Yes, you give up some skiing performance, but skiing skill always trumps gear and skill weighs nothing so think about developing skills rather than relying on gear. Make sure your boot has a beefy mountaineering type sole and that your crampons fit properly and tightly. You end up spending a lot of time out of your skis and in your boots so it also a good idea to size them a bit larger and make sure you have a comfortable rather than a performance fit. Consider utilizing a custom foot bed as well for the best fit for your ski boots. There is nothing worse than feeling as though your boots don’t fit right at the top of a big descent. Most reputable outdoor shops offer some type of custom foot bed option.
Adjustable skiing poles can be shrunk down and fit neatly on your pack if you need to use your hands for climbing. Consider replacing your pole(s) with a Black Diamond whippet or two. These nifty devices may allow you to leave your ice axe at home (depending on your objectives) and at least give you a fighting chance in what otherwise might be a nasty fall. As a final note, I prefer aluminum to carbon poles for multi-day trips. If carbon breaks it literally explodes and shatters is essentially non-repairable, whereas aluminum can be field repaird and will often bend or dent instead of breaking.
Make sure your glue is good. Skin glue problems tend to wildly exacerbate themselves on a multi-day tour. Make sure you have some parts and repair strategies for tip and tail connections if these critical elements fail.
As always, travel safe in the mountains and enjoy the gettin’ while the gettin’ is good!!
Over Presidents day weekend we had a great group of people attend an Avy 1 Course. Below are some photos from the last day of the course, taken around Molas Pass.
It’s been awhile since we last updated the Blog, but that’s only because we’ve been incredibly busy in the last few weeks with mountaineering courses, ice climbing trips, and avalanche courses! It’s been a great start to the season here in the San Juans, and despite a somewhat slow beginning in terms of snowfall for the range, we’ve certainly caught up to and surpassed the average snowfall for this point in the season.
The most recent storm dropped another 2+ feet of snow in the range. The storm was characterized by very light density snow with low moisture content. Translation: cold smoke powder snow.
Unfortunately, given the delay between the previous storm and the weather that typified that time delay, there has been widespread surface hoar formation on many aspects and at a wide variety of elevations both above and below treeline.
Here is a field observations report from Mark Allen on our most recent Level 1 Avalanche Course, 12/28/10:
Little Molas Lake
Molas Pass Obs 20101228
Observers: Mark Allen & Katy Laveck: SWAG Level 1
Angle: 22 degree slope.
Surf Form: 1-3mm V
Snow Pack Summary:
Upper: 50 cm comprised mostly of F-4F DF (the Dec 22/23 interface still reactive to CTH(21) SC @38cm on .5mmDF
Midd: 50-60cm 4F-1F+ cohesive slab small grained .3-.5mm DF with a non reactive
zipper melt melt Freeze Crust integrated @80cm.
Lower: 35cm of Depth Hoar in two distinct layers. The ground layer being reactive to DCTM(19) @130cm on 1.5.mmFC
4 xCTH(21) SC Q2@38cm on .5mmDF
2X CTH(22) SC Q1@38cm on .5mmDF
1 X DCTM(19)@130cm on 1.5.mm FC
Roughly 30-40cm of basal facets in two distinct layers (1-1.5mm) still persist, however, they appear to be beginning to round! We had hard to initiate results within the basal facet layer during a DCT. The mid pack is defiantly insulating the stress and is bound to increase the confidence of users. The wide spread 1-3mm Surface Hoar is going to be interesting to see how it deals with the 20″ of maritime snow that will arrive in the coming front. This is a classic BC and AK problem…are CO users used to this equation? I’m gonna get mine tomorrow and drink a beer this weekend as my terrain choice.
As always, have fun with all the new snow but stay safe out there…….Happy 2011!!
Looks like winter is here to stay in the San Juans! A powerful winter storm is set to impact the area starting this Saturday through the middle of next week. 2 + feet of snow is expected for the Southern and Northern San Juans, and the storm is tracking on SW flow. Hopefully this pattern continues as it did during the winter of 2007-2008 during which we experienced a strong La Nina weather pattern, but due to the positioning of the San Juans we received one of our best snow year’s on record.
Here’s the link for the full special weather statement by the National Weather Service out of Grand Junction.
Remember, early season snow generally means less stable snow conditions throughout the winter. If you haven’t already taken an avalanche course then now is the perfect time to sign up for one of our AIARE Certified Level 1 or Level 2 Avalanche Courses. New this year we are also featuring a 4 day Level 1 Comprehensive Course. Click on the links to find out more and don’t hesitate to give us a call with any questions. Don’t forget that we offer online registration for these courses! See you this winter.
Recently our head ski guide Andrew Klotz did some ski touring the in the San Juan high country to get a read on conditions and see how the skiing was shaping up for the season. He’s happy to report that the San Juans, particularly around the Silverton area and in the 550 corridor near Red Mountain Pass have received a good deal of snow from recent storms and the skiing is great. Check out the turns in the picture below:
More weather in the forecast for this weekend (check out the forecast here), and it looks like despite the prediction of a La Nina winter which typically favors points north, we’re still in for another great winter in the San Juans. In fact the last La Nina winter was 2007-2008 and we received one of our best snow year’s in recent history. All this means great conditions for Avalanche Courses and Backcountry Skiing Trips, so give us a call to reserve your spot on a course or trip today!
It’s the last day of our final AIARE Level 2 Avalanche Course here in Durango and the San Juan Mountains. It’s been a great course so far, with a very strong group of participants including many guides and pro patrolers. And it’s dumping snow again, with another 4 – 8 inches predicted in the high country. A full trip report by the instructors about will follow soon!
One of our last AIARE Level 1 Avalanche Courses of the season had 8 motivated students from as close as Durango and as far away as Los Alamos, NM. As is typical of our Level 1 Avalanche Course, we began with a full day of classroom activities and presentations, during which participants had the opportunity to become familiar with terminology and ask a lot of questions. Sitting in the classroom all day is a lot to ask, but it frees us up for 2 full days in the field on days 2 and 3 of the course.
Day 2 was spent near Molas Pass, where participants became familiar with topics including companion rescue and test pit construction, in addition to exercises related to the AIARE Observation Checklist, which allows participants the chance to start to put things together from the broader perspective of the decision making framework that was introduced on Day 1.
The final day of the course was spent touring up a sub-peak just north of Snowdon Peak. The forecast was calling for snow and it certainly delivered, snowing an inch an hour at times. Participants took turns leading the group up to about 11,700 feet, practicing and learning different types of travel techniques and terrain recognition/management, as well as route finding along the way. The third day of the course offers everyone the chance to apply the knowledge and techniques they have learned during the previous days, with many new learning opportunities and teachable moments to help things sink in.
After assessing snow and weather conditions, the group decided upon a safe descent on a NW facing aspect. Perfect snow conditions typified the descent and everyone had the opportunity to ski some fresh powder on the way down, a huge bonus after 3 days of coursework!
We were fortunate to have perfect conditions that made learning during this course optimal. We began with a light snow on Tuesday which continued through the next day, leaving a new layer of San Juan snow to look at. Observing how wind transported the new snow onto lee and crossloaded aspects was very valuable for bringing attention to obvious start zones as well as not so obvious ones. We also enjoyed digging in the snow and observing all the previous snow storms and how those have changed over time. Learning to identify the potential weak layers and to gather more information with different snowpack tests helped the students identify the potential problem layers. As always, the San Juans obliged with an interesting snowpack structure!
December has been a great month for snow, especially in the Southern San Juans between Coal Bank and Red Mountain Passes. More great news for ski conditions in the high country. Check out this storm profile!
A WINTER STORM WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL 6 PM MST WEDNESDAY.
* PERIODS OF SNOW… HEAVY AT TIMES… WILL CONTINUE THROUGH WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON.
* STORM TOTAL SNOW ACCUMULATIONS WILL RANGE FROM 10 TO 18 INCHES WITH LOCALLY HIGHER AMOUNTS POSSIBLE. SOUTHWEST FACING SLOPES WILL BE FAVORED.
* SOUTHWEST WINDS WILL INCREASE WITH GUSTS TO 35 MPH CREATING AREAS OF BLOWING SNOW AND REDUCED VISIBILITIES.
A WINTER STORM WARNING MEANS THAT HEAVY SNOWFALL AND AREAS OF BLOWING SNOW WILL RESULT IN DANGEROUS DRIVING CONDITIONS. AVOID DRIVING THROUGH THE WARNED AREA UNLESS ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY.