Pilot Peak Conditions for November 28, 2018

After breaking trail yesterday from Mores Creek Summit pass at Idaho 21 to "Almost Top of The World," it felt like the riding will not be as fun. Typical of early winter conditions the skiing usually feels too bottomless. I was wrong. The skiing was FUN, and the snow was very supportive. Of course, when skiing in early winter, you must be careful and use judgment where to ride due to shallow snow conditions.

Above 7000 feet the snowpack depth averaged 50 centimeters. The snow coverage was uniformly distributed through the landscape, with very little evidence of wind redistribution.

Snow depth at Pilot Peak road was sufficient to safely skin up and ski down. If your ski touring destination is on the Pilot Peak side, when returning to the Pilot Peak road, I recommend to ski down on south slopes with some west aspect. Southwest aspects offered few meadow lines with opportunities to ski down to the forest service road while avoiding treefall, rocks, and dense brush thickets. Make sure you hit the forest service road at approximately 7000 feet or face death by brush psychosis (Ha! Ha!).  Attempting to ski lower elevation in south aspects will be detrimental to your karma.

Open meadows above 7000 feet and with East through North aspect have enough snow to satisfy the pow hungry folks. Snow precipitation interception by trees was minimal.

Not surprisingly, evidence of avalanche instability was easy to come by. Multiple localized whumps, surface cracks, and reactive test results confirmed what we expected. The October snow metamorphosed into 3-4 mm striated facets. The October facets are now covered by new snow from the last two storms.

The snowpack at MCS has a simple but deadly structure. Warm snow that is sintering rapidly due to warm temps and creating a supportive slab, a weak layer of large facets characterized by chaining (see pictures) that further weakens mechanical properties and an icy sliding surface at the bottom make conditions more sketchy.

Test results were very reactive with compression columns failing during isolation. Extended column tests provided evidence of propagation potential at MCS snowpack. Propagation Saw and Cross-Propagation Saw tests failed to the end, both with 20 cm cut length. The ECT failed with elbow taps (ECTP11). Fracture initiation did not occur during hand taps (ECTP1-10) most likely due to the thick layer of basal facets that exceeds the 10 cm.

Early season is a good time to start practicing how to record observations as well as develop the habit of using a field book for trip planning. Check the attached link for images of the annotations recorded in Avalanche Science's Bitacora.


One last note. Yesterday there was no evidence of natural avalanches at Pilot Peak surrounding areas. The snowpack was missing natural triggers. But that will change very soon. There is a storm in the forecast that will load the snowpack and increases the avalanche danger.