We drove from Colorado, through southern Wyoming, and back to the mountains of northern Utah, on Friday. Half of the drive took us along the northward edge of the storm system that has been piling on the snow for the last four days. The other half of the drive was right through the storm (“adult driving:” Snow, blowing snow, terrible visibility, and slippery roads). We dug ourselves out four or five times yesterday alone, and the snow keeps on coming. Seven or eight inches have fallen since I shoveled last night at 8 o’clock. As far as I can see out the back windows, the entire world is re-buried this morning. Meanwhile, the Utah avalanche forecasters are warning that the backcountry is not a safe place to be:
Although we�ve technically had a break in storms, it may not seem like it. Since 6:00 am yesterday, we�ve had another 1 to 1.5 feet of new snow with upper Big Cottonwood Canyon picking up two feet. Winds were strong out of the SW for the entire region, with averages in the 20 � 30�s and gusts in the 60�s. Current snow totals for the last week stand at 80� in Little Cottonwood Canyon with over 22 FEET of snow falling since October. The temperatures have been warming overnight and are now up in the low 20�s at 8,000� with the winds dying down into the mid to upper teens. If you are trying to access weather information on the internet, The National Weather Service computers are currently out of commission.
With 1-2 feet of new snow combined with strong winds, we have a text book recipe for avalanche activity and you will need to avoid any steep slopes with deposits of wind drifted snow. You can recognize these by their smooth, rounded shape, slabby feel and hollow drum-like sound. Look for, and avoid, telltale cornices with fat wind deposits of new snow beneath them.
Sharp avalanche eyes will be mandatory today, as the snowpack is in a complex frenzy of transition. If you mistakenly wandering into a high elevation, wind loaded slope, you will most likely trigger an avalanche, but if you stay in wind sheltered, lower angle areas, you will find the best turning and riding conditions, as well as fairly stable snow. Watching your slope angles will be critical today as the new snow is sluffing easily, but not moving far on slopes less steep than 35 degrees.
With a substantial snowpack all the way down to 5,000�, snow-shoers, ice climbers and winter campers will need to watch out for terrain traps in gullies and large collection zones above them.
The snow we shoveled yesterday (haven’t been out yet this morning) is some of the lightest, dryest snow I’ve ever seen. That’s the famous Utah Powder™ that you’ve heard of; its moisture is lost over the Sierra, and the stuff falls like powdered sugar here, piling into light drifts that accumulate over older slabs. The result, when it’s safe, is spectacular powder skiing. But after a huge dump of snow like we’ve had in the past few days, it means increasing danger of deadly avalanche, so carry your shovel, probe, and beacon into the backcountry.
Today Heather and I are meeting an old friend, if the roads allow, and then I’ll try out a few tele turns. It’s nice to be up here, with family, in the middle of the kind of winter storm that we recall only in old memories. It has been a very long time since we had a big snow season here, and we’re really enjoying it.