Berthoud Pass - Not NM, but close

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Berthoud Pass - Not NM, but close

Postby mark » Mon May 12, 2008 12:00 am

Yeah so, this TR isn't about a NM spot, but I thought it interesting for those
in the BC scene.

Matt was visiting family outside of Canyon City and came up for some
skiing today at Berthoud Pass. If you're not familiar with this area, a
Google search will quickly fill you in. It's a very popular area with a lot of
terrain that is both easily accessible and (usually) good skiing.


Colorado seems to be stuck in an eternal winter this year. Another cold
front with moisture moved in yesterday and dropped 8-10' of snow in the
mountains. Before this storm, it had warmed up so when the snow started
falling, it was wet and bonded fairly well to the existing snow.


We started out from Denver at 5am and hit the north side on an area
called the 110's. It's moderate, treed terrain that has low avy danger.
The temp was low and the snow had staid light enough overnight so that
we hit the bottom as we skiied fresh powder.



We noticed the nice bond while skinning up and decided it would be safe
enough to try something more aggressive on the next run. Also, we ran
into a solo skiier (Nate) on the way up and he joined us for the descent.


Since we and Nate had cars at the trailhead, we decided to take Nate's
pickup to the pass and ski down to Matt's (behemouth) truck. We decided
to hit the Continental Divide Trail (an old Berthoud Ski Area trail) to the
top of the ridge, ski a chute called Skull Bite into Current Creek Basin,
then climb a bench in the basin for a quick shot down the Y Chute. This
would funnel us out into the Current Creek Trail that ends at the trail head
with Matt's truck.


There was a bit of confusion on entering Skull Bite and we ended up skiing
some rough snow a couple of chutes north of Skull Bite. This brought us
into the basin and we skinned back up for a quick trip to the top of the
bench. At the top of the bench, we ran across another local, Zack.


Zack is currently living in one of the local ski bum cabins and dropped his
job so he could focus on boarding this spring. We ran across him in the
parking lot and he and Nate (another local who put skiing before income)
recognized each other. Before heading out, Zack announced that he had
brought sausage and was planning on riding some powder in Current
Creek Basin, then cooking breakfast at Peter Rabbit Cabin (yet another ski
bum cabin in the area). So when we ran across him in the basin, he
joined us for the traverse across the bench to the Y chute.


The north side of the bench holds some slick chutes, Y and Z, and a couple
of small bowls, X. Y chute is a nice, 35-40 degree chute that's about 50
yards at the mouth. At the top, it has a rock band in the middle that
separates it into a nice 'Y'.

Nate made the first lines in Y, skiing the southern part of the split. I was
standing on the rock band in the middle and watched as he gunned down
the chute and stopped at a safe place in the trees below. Next, Zack
dropped in on the other side of the Y and I lost sight of him on account of
the rocks. I could see the exit, however, and it was a bit disconcerting
when I saw a plume of powder and snow barrel out. Zack came out about
3 seconds later and I remember thinking it was sluff that had run down as
he rode the chute.


Next was Matt. He dropped in on the south part of the Y. Matt was a bit
trepid and I could tell he wasn't too hot on the conditions. It had warmed
up considerably, even though it was only 10:30 or so. I typically keep an
eye on Matt b/c his being a geologist makes him pretty sensitive to sheer
factors and instability. I could tell he was feeling things out around a
convex at the top of the chute. He traversed the convex and skied skier's
right of it instead of down the gut.


Matt rode it out without event and joined the others at the cluster of trees
below the bench. I was the last of our party to drop in and started
traversing into the south part of the Y as well. Seeing the sharp drop on
the other side of the convex put a bit of concern in my mind. I knew this
was a starting area, so instead of pointing them down, I held on to the
traverse a bit longer to cut the slope. Right as I was nearing the rock wall
on the far side of the chute, a fracture line 12-18" deep shot through my
skis and headed north into the other part of the Y.


The slab below me moved slowly at first, but it was enough to knock me
over. Fortunately, I was standing right on the fracture, so I was only
pulled a few feet then landed on the bed. After the slab gained some
speed, it slid all the way to the apron and cleared out the rest of the chute.


Maybe it was the shallow crown, but I wasn't too freaked out. I skied out
the chute and joined the others at the bottom. It was when I looked up
and saw how much snow had moved that I was a bit shaken. Even though
the fracture was relatively shallow, it had traversed across the rest of the
chute and taken out a good bit of snow. The 'sluff' I though Zack had
released was actually another slide. Between the two slides, we
completely cleared out the Y chute.


Image


Here's a shot of the chute. Looker's right is the southern Y.


I'm probably going to get flamed to hell about human factors in the like,
but that's ok. I'm pretty open to discussion on this one. I don't think we
had bad or innacurate information about the snow pack. The bond was
actually pretty good between the old and the new. I think we just didn't
realize how much impact warmth would have on creating slabs and
overcoming a pretty nice bond.


Human factors are also interesting. Had I stopped and thought a bit after
seeing Zack's 'plume', I might have realized it was a slab. Having done
so, I think the safest way out of the chute would have been to ski the bed
from his slide. This is what Matt did. Unfortunately, I never put 2 and 2
together before pointing them down. You never realize how unnatural it is
to stop and think about things sometimes until after the fact.


It was a great ski out from there. We headed down the basin and to Peter
Rabbit Cabin where Zack fried up the sausages. It was about 11 by then,
and we decided to call it a day. There's a great place in Empire for
burritos if you're ever up there. I can't remember the name, but maybe
Matt can and will post it.

Hope this made for some good reading with your coffee on Monday
morning :)
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Postby Matt » Tue May 13, 2008 1:59 pm

Mark's write up was fairly right on, but I'll add a few more things....

We had looked at the Y chute earlier in the day from across Current
Creek. We had noted then that it had apparently slid during the storm,
as a faint crown was present. It was with that knowledge that we went
into it later in the morning.

Fast forward a little bit......

I dropped into the chute on the same "arm" that was skied by Nate
without incident. I stayed to far skiers left until I could get a look into the
other "arm" of the Y. It was then that I realized that Zack had set off a
relatively small soft slab avy (12" crown). I then ski cut the "arm" I was
in and made it into the bed surface where the runs joined in the "stem".
When cutting I released a couple of small slabs, but was a little wary of
20-30 ft of hangfire between me and the bulge at the top of the run. I
then skied the bed surface down to a safe zone.

Mark had the rest in his description.

One item of note was a second group that reached the XYZ chutes the
same time we did. They proceeded to ski the chute adjacent to ours.
Three skiers skied the chute, and no activity resulted. That chute had
also run during the storm. Near identical observed conditions before
skiing.

In hind sight, being a rag tag group of four we went through the chute a
little fast. Zack and Nate were used to skiing alone, and didn't seem to
have much experience in traveling in groups in the bc. We should have
discussed before entering, and had the first skier methodically cut the
slope. Nate and Zack skied first, both pointing them straight down.

All in all a good learning experience, and shows how group dynamics,
especially in those groups that have not skied together before, can break
down when faced with good powder.

I don't remember the name of the burrito place in Empire, but I do
remember that Mark called in the avy to the local sheriffs office so that no
one would go looking for the idiots whose tracks went into the slide. :wink:
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Re: Berthoud Pass - Not NM, but close

Postby Bob » Tue May 13, 2008 8:03 pm

mark wrote:...I'm probably going to get flamed to hell about human factors in the like, but that's ok....

You idiot! :wink: Okay, I'm kidding there. Wow, that was really interesting. I was going to ask some questions about inter-group communications, but you guys addressed that pretty well. Glad it all turned out well for you.

mark wrote:I'm pretty open to discussion on this one. I don't think we
had bad or innacurate information about the snow pack. The bond was
actually pretty good between the old and the new. I think we just didn't
realize how much impact warmth would have on creating slabs and
overcoming a pretty nice bond.

Human factors are also interesting. Had I stopped and thought a bit after
seeing Zack's 'plume', I might have realized it was a slab. Having done
so, I think the safest way out of the chute would have been to ski the bed
from his slide. This is what Matt did. Unfortunately, I never put 2 and 2
together before pointing them down. You never realize how unnatural it is
to stop and think about things sometimes until after the fact.

Very, very astute. Good message for all of us.

See you in Jackson Hole next week. Don't forget your headlamp and crampons.
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