Taos Ski Valley Region

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Re: Taos Ski Valley Region

Postby JBella » Thu Jan 05, 2017 10:20 am

Strong west-east flow aloft, plentiful moisture in the atmosphere, and wind preceding the storm. If all the factors add up how they look to tonight could be one of the biggest storms we've seen for since February 1 last year. Friday and Saturday could be good days to lay low and stay out of the avalanche terrain in the backcountry.

The past three days winds have been moving whatever loose snow has been moveable. The high alpine terrain is a mix of hard windslabs and softer pockets of dry snow strewn about among scoured rocky areas. South facing slopes had warmed enough for rollers to come down, and then refroze during the evenings. There could be slick suncrusts on these slopes to which the new snow will not bond well. The main concerns, if this storm pans out how it looks to, will be deep storm slabs, cornices, and heavy crossloaded windslabs. The upper layers of the snowpack are well bonded yet the weak interface layers within the lower half of the snowpack are still shearing apart clean and stepdowns into these older slabs will be possible. Travel with diligence this weekend!
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Re: Taos Ski Valley Region

Postby JBella » Fri Jan 06, 2017 10:23 am

There's 4" of light density snow in town, the kind of snow that you can blow away with a light breath. A friend is reporting 12" at the Northside trailhead gate. The ski area is reporting 13", the snotel sites at the top of lift 7 and Shalako Gully are showing 7.4" and 9.1", respectively. At 9:20 the clouds are beginning to clear and the sun is showing some light on the snow! Looks to be a beautiful powder day.
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Re: Taos Ski Valley Region

Postby JBella » Sun Jan 08, 2017 2:14 am

Friday's storm came in two waves, each producing similar measurable accumulations. The first round of snow began late Thursday and accompanied moderate winds with some stronger gusts, this snow was dense and efficiently packed into an established slab in many places. The second round came early Friday morning and left a nice layer of blower pow. Conditions today were good, cold temps last night and this morning kept the snow dry and deep. About 14" average storm total throughout the Wheeler side of the range. Sunny aspects began to warm for a brief time this afternoon, there may be some thin suncrusts in isolated areas on southerly slopes.

Ascending Kachina's lower southeast side this morning, all of the recent avalanche activity we observed were R1 and R2 storm slabs on the eastern slopes and sluffs that ran from point releases in the rock outcrops and beneath trees. The slabs looked like they ran during the end of the storm and the sluffs were more recent, some from this morning;

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We climbed through the trees to the lower bench in Wildy Bowl, quickly traversed across the basin then climbed to the bench below the first couloir on Fairview mountain's north face, near the top of Teddy's Chute. Temps were about 15 degrees cooler in the shade of the ridge than on the open terrain below Kachina's southeast slopes, and the effects of recent wind were apparent. We got a good look at the couloir above us, discussed climbing it and mutually agreed it wasn't worth the risk of being slid or falling into the rocks on the windblown apron;

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We took a moment to check out Wheeler. Someone found a deep pocket and got a nice looking line after skitching through the rock field below Mount Walter;

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Across the small basin where the bench rolls into Teddy's line, there was a knee deep drift atop a solid and supportable layer;

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With the supportable windslab beneath the surface powder we were able to safely manage the sluffs and got some great turns also. As it was manageable today, the snowpack is like a roulette wheel. The dense mid-upper layers of the snowpack are well bonded and providing strength, buried persistent deep slabs are lurking within the lower half of the pack along with well defined compressed surface hoar that is preventing these slabs from bonding, knowing this was creating a sense of precarious unease while traveling through some of the terrain we were in today, even with the confidence that the snowpack would support our weight without concern;

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Down low in the trees the snow was smoother and even deeper where it hadn't been affected by wind;

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With the strength of the upper snowpack and the way the season is evolving it's becoming harder to trigger the deeply buried slabs, yet hitting the right spot could initiate a large and respectable avalanche. Now that the storm snow has ran through a natural slide cycle and is settling, the snowpack is in a state where it can support it's own weight and natural slides are unlikely - in the near and longer time frame this could change quickly with variable day/night temps (continued faceting), rapid warming or windloading, or added weight if another storm occurs soon. It's easy to gain overt trust when these conditions are present and disregard certain characteristics of the seasonal snowpack, which are recognizable this year with very typical intercontinental Rocky Mountain conditions for January. Known persistent weak layers exist, as do nearly perfect powder conditions in many zones - the understanding and acceptance of risk is important to consider. Keen route finding skills and knowledge of the area are important to access the appealing terrain, it's nearly impossible to tour anywhere in the Williams Lake basin without being exposed to potential avalanche danger somewhere along the way.
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Re: Taos Ski Valley Region

Postby JBella » Mon Jan 09, 2017 1:01 pm

Was taking a closer look at pics of the recent storm slide on Kachina's east side, comparing this one to larger slides I've seen here in recent years and knowledge of this specific area I'd rate it an R3D2. We could see the debris deposit zone and it sluffed out before the potential runout end point. The highest point of the crown appears to be in the middle of the chute, above where it widens and opens onto the apron. The slide likely ran early Friday morning while it was still dark and was triggered by storm snow sluffing from the rocks above the chute. Winds continued to move the fresh snow around and some drifts are visible along the crown. It looks like a coyote was checking out the slide, there's a track visible entering the upper south side of the avalanche path then fading as the animal crossed the bed surface.

Full res image;

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Animal track, likely a lone coyote
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Re: Taos Ski Valley Region

Postby JBella » Tue Jan 10, 2017 8:01 pm

Last night's storm brought strong winds and very little snow, less than 2 inches across most of the area. Winds were above 70mph at times, and the effects were obvious, especially below 10,500' on east facing aspects and along north running ridges and rollovers. I toured a short ways up the west facing terrain near the lower reaches of the Lake Fork of the Hondo. Encountered lots of downed trees, some living most dead wood, all had fallen towards the west. This morning on the true west facing terrain wind was coming mostly from the northeast, though in the valley it was variable with swirling winds seeming to come from all directions at times. After an inch or two of snow fell last night about a quarter to half inch of graupel accumulated and was being blown around till about 10:30 when the storm cleared out of the region and everything became calmer.

There's some obs in this video which is kind of long, if you don't want to listen to my rambles about snowpack theories jump to 3:40 to see a reactive single column compression test and 7:48 for my assessment in summary.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cEJV9Z4 ... e=youtu.be

I forgot to mention that when I was filling in the pit the upper windslab layer was acting as a slab should - it was breaking a few feet around the shovel blade and sliding easily downhill. An acquaintance said they found similar results on a southwest aspect a couple miles up Long Canyon yesterday.
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Re: Taos Ski Valley Region

Postby JBella » Thu Jan 19, 2017 9:10 pm

Today on South and SSE aspects in and around the Snowshoe Couloir; recent storm snow was 4-7 inches deep, average snowpack depths in this region ranged from 3 to 5 feet. Rapid warming after the morning's clouds cleared and the sun came out created perfect conditions for the fresh snow to begin melting and easily slide down the smooth suncrust it was covering. Temps rose into the upper 30s in the sun as we ascended the aspen filled gully to the west of the couloir. As we began climbing above the Bull of the Woods trail we came across an R1D2 slide that looked like it had ran early this morning, triggered by snow sluffing off the cliffs above. When we descended the couloir at about 1:30 we kicked down a bunch of shallow soft wet slabs that ran nearly the entire length of the chute, the wet and dense snow was moving easily atop the frozen suncrust. Though these slides were relatively small, they ran fast and picked up all the loose snow in their paths, depositing debris up to 4 feet deep around and above trees. The avalanche paths on this mountainside run through aspen glades full of brush (typical growth on warmer south aspects in this region of the Sangres) and obstacles, even though a burial would have been unlikely *yet possible, being hit by one of these slides coming from above could easily push a person through trees and rocks. Higher up the bed surface was frozen and required us to descend cautiously with several stops to assess our position and determine the best route from each stopping point. The lower reaches of the chute were warmer and after being exposed to the sun for a few minutes the bed surface had softened enough to ride with ease.

This is a gnarly area, it's steep and exposed with one "clean" line through the large outcrop at the foot of a long north-south ridge, it rarely holds rideable snow for more than a few days after a storm cycle before the snow melts out. It's likely the active layer today warmed enough that it will refreeze tonight and won't become reactive again until it warms up enough to thaw.

R1D2 natural release, likely occured early this morning;

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Same slide a couple hours later;

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Near the top of the line;

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Managing the sluffs and working our way down the slick chute;

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From across the valley;

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Re: Taos Ski Valley Region

Postby JBella » Sat Jan 21, 2017 10:58 am

It's been snowing since yesterday evening, accumulations in the 7-10 inch range so far, winds from the southwest 20-25+mph are moving the snow into drifts.
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Re: Taos Ski Valley Region

Postby JBella » Mon Jan 23, 2017 11:19 am

Storm totals in this region were in the 15-25" range, with deeper amounts in areas close to and above treeline and where orographics allowed. Many areas inbounds where wind-moved snow settled were easily deeper than waist height! Tonight's storm is forecast to bring another 11-19 inches! Needless to say, with this much new snow atop the several inches fresh from last week, avalanche conditions are approaching the black category. The fresh snow is bonding well within itself and to the old surface (which was pretty fresh atop a few thin daily/nightly accumulated layers), yet the weight of so much snow can only be supported to a point before it moves. Wind has been building cornices and deep drifts along ridgelines, and cross loading open faces especially above treeline on northwest through southerly aspects where the wind hits a mountainside then is pushed across the slopes. Travel within and beneath steep and open avalanche paths is not recommended today and likely should be avoided for the next several days.

Yesterday some brave (or just risky) people rode the Peace Chute, looked like 2 ski tracks and a dog in the center line and 1 skier descended the south chute. They got some awesome lines, yet in my opinion and knowing how this chute slid when it took Tim Harter out in '96, I'd say they took some serious risk by entering the starting zones how they did; the slide that killed Tim initiated right about where the skiers' 5th and 6th turns are in the main chute. This type of risk is something we all expose our selves to sometimes or often while touring in the backcountry; it is likely these three skiers know this area well and have skied this line several times, which is what often leads to the issue of terrain familiarity and that expert halo of knowledge. A lot of people have been saying lately that the snowpack is "safe" and "now's the time to go", and there have been some great lines layed out in the local wilderness. Yet also, a lot of these lines have not slid this year, and the starting zones are full and heavy with buried persistent deep slabs and compressed surface hoar layers from November and early December lurking beneath January and late December's strong and dense slabs. Ski cuts may not even cause a slight vibration in these layers, yet railing a turn hard in the middle of or near the edge of a slab or weak spot could release a fast moving and deadly slide.

In summary; avalanche potential and conditions are prime right now; it's the end of January, the snowpack is showing strength in the mid-upper layers and known deep slab instabilities from the classic early season intercontinental snowpack not only exist, but are very well defined. All this beneath the recent storm cycle's deep and heavy snow - the strength in the mid/upper layers and appearance of relative stability (not many natural releases) within the storm snow can be deceiving! There are lots of good lines that can be found now, yet the element of risk based on natural conditions can be exponentially increased, or decreased due to conscious decision making - the good ole' human factor. Choose your routes wisely and don't forget what we learned during November and December this year.

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The tops of the slide paths on the west side of the Frazer-Wheeler ridge are holding deep, wind deposited drifts around rocks and terrain features. This is part of the starting zone in the Bavarian slide path
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Re: Taos Ski Valley Region

Postby Jasper » Mon Jan 23, 2017 10:25 pm

Have I made similar decisions? Yes. Did I have good skiing? For sure. Did I narrowly escape with my life? Yup. Would I make the same decisions again? I hope not.

Managing the low probability high consequence persistent slab problem is hard. Your choices are to avoid avalanche terrain, search and search hard for evidence that your chosen slope is free of the persistent slab, or gamble with your life!

Did the folks who skied these lines search for evidence? Why did two go one way and one the other? Was there a leading party and a following party who fell for the safety of tracks? One things for sure, they had a great run, and they took a great risk. I hope they acknowledge the risk that they took, and I hope others do as well. If they read this it would be helpful to hear their take, and learn what observations made them go with their decision.

Learn more about persistent slabs by checking out Brian Lazar and Ethan Greene’s blog on Deep Persistent Slabs in this season’s Colorado snowpack. http://avalanche.state.co.us/the-danger-of-improving-stability/

Also by listening to Doug Krause’s podcast, Slide: The Avalanche Podcast. Episode 7 is loaded with advice from Rocky Mountain Avalanche Pros in dealing with persistent slabs. While all episodes are loaded with excellent avalanche and decision making advice. https://soundcloud.com/user-660921194
Last edited by Jasper on Tue Jan 24, 2017 6:46 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Taos Ski Valley Region

Postby Kerry » Mon Jan 23, 2017 11:38 pm

Well said, Jared and Jasper.
Anyone interested in touring around Gold Hill on Thursday, the 26th? PM me.
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Re: Taos Ski Valley Region

Postby JBella » Thu Jan 26, 2017 8:41 pm

Storm cycle totals in the Williams Lake basin are about 45-56" during the past week. The snowpack is deep, two days ago at the lake on the lower north end of Kachina's east basin it was 91" at a site surrounded by large conifers and protected from wind, today there was an additional 4 inches from yesterday and last night.

91" snowpack at this site, 1/24/17
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1/24/17 - about 48" fresh at this site, the deepest storm snow since the February-March 2015 event
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That bottomless floaty feeling...
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The storm cleared out of the region this afternoon, after a cold night last night (below 0f) and mild warming today, temps have again dropped into the single digits in the high alpine. The recent storm cycle was significant and added a lot of weight to the snowpack, something to consider even as the storm snow appears to be strong and showing few signs of instabilities.

Peace Chute runout
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This morning, all the avalanche activity we noticed was within the storm snow, mostly R1D1-2 sluffs running from point releases triggered by small cornice collapses and snow falling from trees on steep slopes.

Wildy 2 and 1, Kachina East Side
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Although these slides are small and weren't running far, something this size could pull a skier into rocks or trees, over cliffs, or bury someone where the deeper debris piles up. After tomorrow temps should warm gradually for several days, which may help the fresh snow settle and the snowpack to continue adjusting with the new weight. Watch for surface hoar to grow tonight and during the next few nights, development of slab characteristics within the newer layers, and continued faceting within the older buried layers.

Yesterday we waited for Lift 4 to open then cruised around inbounds and it was worth it;

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It's worth noting that with the recent storm, hazards like tree wells and creeks are legitimate concerns, inbounds as well as in the wilderness. The Ski Valley was reporting a 100" base this morning, our measurements in the Williams Lake basin have been in the 87-99" range the past few days.

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Re: Taos Ski Valley Region

Postby Kerry » Thu Jan 26, 2017 11:35 pm

Skied to Gold Hill today, primarily to lay a skin track for a gaggle of us skiing to RR and ?back? on Saturday. Pit data is from a pitch below the power line and above the Bull of Woods trail, about 9900', sheltered from direct sun on a south aspect. Purpose of pit was to evaluate potential for propagation before skiing above the trail fork where the trail becomes a road bed. There's an old avy path on about a 185-deg aspect that crosses the road bed, visible on older maps. Figured with the large snowpack, it's worth caution. Pit did not indicate potential to propagate, but note it's only one pit. And neither did field obs...no signs of instability; did not see any slides less than 48-hrs old.
Note the large temp delta in the upper third of snowpack. I expect our cold dry air to suck a lot of moisture out of the top 20-50 cm this week. On the up-side, the DH layer is thin and with small grains relative to most Januarys here, even for a south slope. Consistent grain size is also a plus for stability. But there's still a persistent slab, strong over weak.
Winds did a little different number on Gold Hill recently. There's normally a low-angle line available on the east side to ski from near summit. Wind has scoured the whole east face of Gold; have to move at least a couple hundred yards north or south of summit for skiable, yet wind-loaded line.
By the way, who 3 rode the east slope from TL into Long Canyon this morning...nice line. What did the snow say to you?
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Re: Taos Ski Valley Region

Postby Kerry » Sun Jan 29, 2017 11:07 pm

Skied TSV to Red River ski area and return on 1/29. Only significant sign of avy activity observed was a R4D2 on a NE aspect just SW of Goose Lake; estimate it slid between the two recent storms on 1/23. We skied the avy path, mostly filled in with recent wind drift and last snowfall, on our outbound traverse. Remainder of Goose Lake bowl is heavily wind loaded. The nearest treed rib running east of Gold Hill, which we climbed on our return path, is heavily loaded with hard wind slabs from TL down about 300'. I do not recommend skiing this rib and recommend exercising great caution if climbing it as the start zones for the north and south flanks of the rib are interwoven with significant objective hazard on both sides.
Below 10,600 on southerly pitches between Goose Lake and RR, rapid warming caused significant shedding of snow from evergreens..steep aspen groves in this area were suspect.
No whumping or cracking, except in very fresh top 3" wind crusts, were observed on the 22.2 mile route. Significant wind transport in all TL and >TL areas around Gold Hill have scoured most available fetches to the ground.
If anyone wants to suffer a little less, there is now a solid skin track TSV-RR...get it while it's easy. If I were to do it again soon, I'd target the ESE pitch below Gold Hill that runs skier's right of the trees toward Goose Lake...it's heavily loaded, deserves cautious inspection, but I expect is solid with fluff on top. (You'd have to downclimb about 300-meters to the apron entry as the wind has scoured most sides of Gold Hill to the ground.) For return, I'd boot the climber's left of the avy path described above, or for a safer route, cut SSW from downstream of Goose Lake to BOW yurt staying in the trees off avy terrain, breaking your own trail.
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Re: Taos Ski Valley Region

Postby JBella » Tue Feb 07, 2017 9:09 am

After several days of high pressure, warm temps, and some days with moderate and strong winds the snowpack has transitioned to a Springlike conglomerate of dense, heavy and supportable layers. At site by the Kachina Pond where we measured 91" depth at the end of the storm a couple weeks ago the pack has settled to about 70". Touring that route on Sunday I probed a bunch of different spots, average depth in that area was 60" in the trees ascending from the William's Lake trail and 65" at the pond.

Potential to trigger an avalanche has decreased significantly, and along with this it is likely that any avalanches triggered will be large and destructive. Main concerns are deeply buried persistent slabs from November, December, and the deep layer of late January's storm snow on top of all the buried early season layers. Today looks to be cloudy and cool, yet consider that there may be isolated pockets (more widespread on southerly aspects near and below treeline) that are warmer and may not be entirely frozen near rock outcrops and where the snowpack has insulated itself from the atmospheric elements.
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Re: Taos Ski Valley Region

Postby JBella » Sat Feb 18, 2017 1:24 am

Williams Lake basin was warm today, upwards of 45f when the clouds were insulating the valley before noon. Then the sun came out. Very little wind today, lots of rippled wind drifted pockets between areas that had been cleaned to the smooth windslab from before the previous and modest storm. There were some soft drifts up to a couple feet deep, most were 4-6", on the lower slopes of Fairview Mtn's southeast ridge. Higher up on Fairview's south slopes during the early afternoon the snow was beginning to corn up. Shallow areas near rocks are melting quickly during the days. There were some old R2D2 wet slides, results from cornice collapses several days ago. Across the basin on the easterly and northerly slopes leading to Lake Fork's summit were windblown patches and slick hard surfaces in places, lots of old embossed tracks throughout the region. Main avalanche concerns are recent windslabs built upon older windslabs - the newest layer isn't deep but is very energetic; deep buried persistent slabs and buried surface hoar; and on southerly slopes there are places where the snowpack hasn't froze for a few nights and warm daytime temps have been keeping the snow loose around and beneath terrain features like cliffs and outcrops.

Ascending Lake Fork's eastern ridge. Figure 8's and zigzag skin tracks below the Ice Spider Couloir
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Lake Fork's whirled summit pitch
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Rj and the dogs climbing towards the Cerberus Couloir
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The top of their climb was as steep as it looks
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