Early season touring – conditions report

Christian Santelices and I struck out for the first turns of the season on November 4, and had a look at the snowpack on the way.  As usual, Grand Targhee has the best early-season coverage in the Southern Tetons (below 10,000’ at least) so off we went for a morning tour.  We ran into Joe Calder (Targhee Ski Patrol Director) at the base area, and he said there had been a few natural slides around the weekend, some of the running low into the facets, but most seeming to run just within the storm snow. He also mentioned that the amount of ski tourers and riders over the weekend was something to behold (more than some days when the lifts are running).

As we started to tour, we quickly found the snow to be deeper for this time of year than we had seen in recent years.  As we poked to the north side of the ridge we could clearly feel the facets at the base of the snowpack, but we didn’t experience any collapsing/whumpfing or shooting cracks.  We dug a pit on one of the lower entrances to Chief Joseph Bowl (somewhere in the entrances called The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly – though I couldn’t tell you which one).  There was a recent rain/rime crust near the surface which was weak, but had no propagation propensity to it, and relatively high friction (Q2/PC).  The facets at the bottom had moderate strength, low propagation propensity, and a bit more energy/low friction when they collapsed (Q2/SC).  Even so, we felt stability was good for now.  It would likely need more loading – fairly rapidly to activate the layers such as we saw them.  See the pit profile for details.

Chief Joe Bowl - GT.20131104

We continued into the clouds, graupel, and cold temperatures to the top of Dream Catcher lift where we made ready for a cautious descent.  It felt a lot more like December than early November up there.  Although the single rain rime crust gave way to a double crust 1000’ down the west aspect, the skiing was actually quite good.  Rocks were relatively well covered, and even in the wind blown spots there was enough coverage to keep our skis off the ground.

Overall, a great first ski day of the season for us.  There are some layers to track, and the next few weeks of weather will determine whether we have a persistent problem, or not.  Now is the time to pay attention to see what the rest of the snowpack will be sitting on.  Fortunately, most of October’s snow melted off below 10K, except for the northerly aspects.  Let’s hope November’s snows keep coming!



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