Taos Ski Valley Region

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JBella
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Re: Taos Ski Valley Region

Post by JBella »

This morning began with some moderate and gusty winds, and about 3/4 of an inch of graupel between 5 and 7am. After that the winds calmed a bit yet continued throughout the day, and another 2-4 inches accumulated before about 3pm. There were brief periods of sunlight making it's way through the clouds, and a high ceiling developed after about 6pm. Currently at 8:30 the air is calm in the mid-elevations and snowfall is just a light flurry. It could and probably will pick up again later tonight and/or early tomorrow. The graupel layer that accumulated this morning was loose and dry, <1mm diameters, and with the wind it was blown around into isolated pockets 1-3 feet deep in some areas, especially on west facing slopes that are prone to crossloading and spindrifting where terrain features catch the windblown solid matter.
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JBella
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Re: Taos Ski Valley Region

Post by JBella »

Storm totals today, atop the 2-4 inches that accumulated yesterday, are in the 12-17 inch range, probably deeper in some places. I was seeing sloughs on just about every aspect, on south through northwest slopes it was the upper 4-6 inches of the storm snow, on a northeast aspect at about 11,000' earlier in the day I spotted two small but respectable releases, soft slabs, one moved about 20 feet downhill and held it's basic form and the other ran a couple hundred feet and broke apart before sloughing itself out where the slope leveled, I couldn't inspect them up close, based on their appearance and observations in the nearby area they were about 20 inches deep and moved within the 24-25th storm snow. I noticed a few similar looking but much smaller storm slabs moved a few feet on a northerly aspect later in the day, this could indicate north and east aspects may be precarious for the duration of this storm, anywhere that's been cool enough for the previous storm layers to remain dry and powdery. This storm's snow is denser than the previous, still really dry but adding some weight. Mid-elevation depths on Bull of the Woods today were 50-80 inches and I measured a few locations above 100 near treeline. Drifts and cornices on high ridges are much deeper and should be avoided for the near future.

This was the snow surface two days ago, the top of Long Canyon's west ridge, suitably named Avalanche Ridge by some old-time skiers;
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The middle of the starting zone in the path below the summit was wind-scoured to the ground, as is the sub-starting zone on the second pitch down the next chute to the north, while above there where the ridge crests a 10+ foot deep windslab is deposited. The adjacent chutes are filled in. This is a heavy snow zone, likely receiving deeper amounts in this region during the past 24 hours, now that's hanging above the layer in these pics. Aspects in the first image are ENE through ESE, the cooler side of the mountain.
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Further along the ridge there are more open slopes with cornices above, which have in the past collapsed and triggered large face slides during storms. With the winds last night and today this south to north ridgeline is likely loaded, as well as others like Frazer's high ridge above Middle Fork and beyond La Cal Basin towards Wheeler, above Horseshoe and Lost Lakes. Trails below these ridgelines like #91 and the Middle Fork Lake trail easily lead to many areas where travel beyond a familiar safe route should be avoided until this fresh snow can react and then has time to settle a bit.
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JBella
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Re: Taos Ski Valley Region

Post by JBella »

Another 2-4 inches overnight. Much colder today. The storm snow has compressed and strengthened a bit, meaning there is less likelihood of long running sloughs and more slab characteristics appearing, propagating cracks and structured releases are possible. The interface with the older layer is also more noticeable today, and the storm snow from January 24-25th is beginning to facet. There was some wind from the southwest during the night depositing drifted snow on lee aspects and near terrain features that can catch the blowing snow.
colin
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Re: Taos Ski Valley Region

Post by colin »

Does anyone know if the Kachina lift has been running the past two days? I see that the skitTaos website says most runs up there are closed. Is there a way to see what has/hasn't been open each day due to avalanche control? Or what is likely to open the next day?

Just looking for some beta on if I get up to the ski area Wednesday or Thursday if there will be lots of tracks already or good powder.

Thanks!
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JBella
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Re: Taos Ski Valley Region

Post by JBella »

If it was running I hope they caught it.

They usually get Kachina open a day or two after a storm cycle ends.

About another 1-2 inches throughout the day today, with light snow currently and temps continue gradually decreasing.
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Re: Taos Ski Valley Region

Post by JBella »

2-3 inches more since last night.

Today riding inbounds with some friends, we were riding lower Hunziker and the snow was great. Kachina opened, and was pretty tracked down to moguls by about noon. Sometime between (estimating) 11:30 and 11:50 there was a release on the far east side of Hunziker Bowl, on an aspect pretty close to true north. We first saw it while descending the main run down the lower half of the bowl just before 1pm. When I first saw it, there were three people skiing across, then down the debris field. It did not appear anyone had been caught, but it had swept across the traverse. Soon after ski patrollers began arriving on scene and initiated a search with an avalanche dog. We watched the scene from the far side to the north for a few minutes as patrol began stopping people from traversing into the slide and directing them downhill, then we headed down to Lift 4. The avalanche was small but respectable size, about 2-3 foot deep crown at the deepest point and fading to about a foot on the western flank, about 60 feet wide and it ran about 100 vertical feet. We got on the lift at about 12:10 and I got a couple pictures as we passed the area at 12:17;
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I don't know any more detailed info, whether anyone was caught or not, if it was a natural release or skier-triggered. Temps were frigid cold this morning in the 0-5 range until about 10, then gradually warmed over the next couple hours, this may have played a role in this particular slab releasing. It appeared to be a storm slab, possibly ran on surface hoar that developed during the last week of January or within/atop the 24-25th storm snow, but I couldn't tell from a distance. If I have any more info tonight I'll update this post.

Update 2/4; What I have heard was that the Hunziker slide was triggered by a skier who was buried about waist deep, a TSV employee witnessed the avalanche from about halfway down the main Hunziker run and called it in immediately, and patrol was on scene within a couple minutes and either dug out the skier or the skier had been able to extricate himself. The pictures I took were during a secondary search to see if the dog would alert to anything, but no one else had been involved.
Last edited by JBella on Thu Feb 04, 2016 11:27 am, edited 4 times in total.
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JBella
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Re: Taos Ski Valley Region

Post by JBella »

There were some sizeable releases on Kachina's east side, in the wilderness, also this morning. I'll try to get some intel on this area tomorrow when it's in the sun. Possibly a natural cycle occurred this morning, or sympathetic triggers ...
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Re: Taos Ski Valley Region

Post by scotthsu »

Hey Jared, wish I was up there! Sounds like the run was open when the slide occurred? If so, that is two inbounds slides on open runs this season. I can't recall a single other one in the past decade.
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JBella
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Re: Taos Ski Valley Region

Post by JBella »

scotthsu wrote:Sounds like the run was open when the slide occurred? If so, that is two inbounds slides on open runs this season. I can't recall a single other one in the past decade.
Yeah, something for people to consider before they complain about terrain not being open until it's been cleared...
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JBella
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Re: Taos Ski Valley Region

Post by JBella »

Most avalanche incidents, there won't be three first responders on scene within a few minutes. Physics has boundaries, maybe, but doesn't care about rope-lines. Steep terrain that's been heavily controlled is always avalanche terrain. Temperature can be our friend or our nemesis.
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Re: Taos Ski Valley Region

Post by JBella »

Here's some pics of the slide on Kachina's east side, and some others that released during the storm and have filled in a bit, all are on easterly aspects;
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High crown
High crown
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Step-down
Step-down
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Debris deposit
Debris deposit
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This is on Long Canyon's west ridge north of the high point
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This is south of the high point;
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This is below the ridge between Lake Fork and Sin Nombre;
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JBella
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Re: Taos Ski Valley Region

Post by JBella »

Deep slab instabilities are a current issue. The recent storm snow has settled and been affected by the sun enough that it has been integrated with the snowpack as a whole. Sunny SE-NW aspects have warmed significantly the past two days while shady and/or cooler NW-E aspects remain dry and cold. Suncrusts are evident on some southerly aspects, while faceting continues within the lower layers on all aspects. Digging around the past two days I've found a very well developed faceted layer on the ground on west facing slopes at all elevations between 9k and treeline, about 3-4 inches deep and above that layer a consistent transition into less developed, but still faceted crystals.

WNW aspect at about 10,600';
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crystals consist of 1-3mm columns and irregular column-like structures at this site;
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These conditions, and the layers near the ground, are very similar to what existed in central Colorado during the 2012-13 Winter; a deep snowpack that had held weight and shown relatively stable conditions during the first half of the Winter began reacting during the later months as Winter transitioned to Spring, slopes could not hold the weight of the snowpack and very large slabs began releasing across a widespread area, within the same layers. There had been moderate storm slab activity during the season (something that hasn't been as prevalent in the Sangres this year), as Spring approached large deep slab released on slopes that hadn't avalanched yet, the Vail Pass and Loveland Pass incidents on April 18th and 20th are worth reading about

http://avalanche.state.co.us/caic/acc/a ... &accfm=inv

http://avalanche.state.co.us/caic/acc/a ... &accfm=inv

...

Currently in this region, we have a deep stack of varying layers atop weak, cohesionless faceted snow, with surface hoar and/or suncrust layers sandwiched between. The snowpack is deep, heavy, and many large known paths have not slid yet this season during the storms. Warm daytime temps this week will affect the snowpack, likely producing some loose wet sloughs on rocky south facing terrain and melting sunny aspects enough that crusts become more widespread on the surface. The heat won't penetrate to the lower layers in upper elevations. Northerly aspects will continue to facet as the cool and dry nights wick any available moisture out of the already dry high desert snowpack, and surface hoar could form on undisturbed snow if nighttime temps drop enough.

After the unseasonably stable conditions we had during January, the trend of decreasing stability continues. With the weight of the recent storm snow on top, and after a light natural avalanche cycle has run it's course, I think potential for avalanches is at more normal level for early February, within the Considerable range on all aspects and elevations except lower south facing terrain where the snow isn't as deep, these areas it is in the Low to Moderate range, keep in mind a lot of places like the lower Hondo Canyon (below Lobo, Perra and Gallina Peaks for example) hold slopes like this that may be below paths that begin higher up where the snow is much deeper. Rocks falling and loose landslides are possible in these lower elevations as well.
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Re: Taos Ski Valley Region

Post by JBella »

Spring has sprung. It's warm and there is lots of corn snow on the sunny afternoon aspects. I've been finding loose, deeply faceted pockets on northerly aspects more often than a week ago.
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Re: Taos Ski Valley Region

Post by JPaige »

Just want to say thanks to JBella for the consistent and comprehensive updates throughout the season. Your efforts are appreciated!
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Re: Taos Ski Valley Region

Post by JBella »

Warm Springlike temps continue during the days as the southwestern US remains in this high pressure, copious moisture in the PNW and above the Pacific to the SW of the Baja Peninsula. Daytime highs have been in the upper 40s and low 50s, nighttime temps in the low to mid 20s. Yesterday was breezy, helping keep the solar radiation at a reasonable level and also causing some water to evaporate from the snowpack keeping it dryer than the non-windy and warm days. Still, southeast through northwest aspects have been affected by the sun. I've been able to get some small loose wet slides running on steep, lower elevation slopes between 9 and 10k, higher up the snow is more slablike and showing traits we usually don't see until April. The lower layers of the snowpack have not been affected by free water except where the snowpack is thinner due to wind and melting between storms. The freeze crust in the middle elevations this morning is stiff yet not strong enough to support my weight, with loose faceted crystals below a 1-several inch surface crust. Above 9k northerly aspects in shaded areas are still dry and continue to facet and loose strength (below 9k N aspects are more variable, between 8 and 9k the heat is affecting these slopes more than above), as well the snowpack on these areas is compressing under it's own weight and gradually loosing depth. These factors are creating a unique situation where loose dry and soft slab avalanches are possible on northerly aspects, and loose wet and wet slab avalanches are possible on southerly aspects. Avalanche potential on north aspects above 9k are mod-considerable, south aspects low/mod early increasing to considerable/high by 10am and throughout the rest of day.

The San Juans have a similar snowpack, they've had decent accumulations during the same southern storm systems plus a couple of the northern storms that didn't produce much here did there, this report is from a slide that was triggered yesterday;

http://avalanche.state.co.us/caic/acc/a ... iew=public

South and West facing slopes on Kachina, Lake Fork, and Wheeler as well as high in the Columbine Hondo should be avoided during the afternoons until this warm period subsides and we have a couple deep nighttime freezes and more snow. North and East aspects on these mountains are less likely to slide, but if they do they will go big. Think the East sides of Kachina and Lake Fork, where the early morning sun directly affects the open convex snowfields because there is no shade, while other slopes on the same aspects are more sheltered. These slopes can be deceiving because they are back in the shade by about 1pm and begin cooling down when south and westerly aspects really heat up, yet they have enough time to warm up for the snowpack to become less stable than other easterly aspects that aren't as open and exposed to direct sunlight.
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