Sunday, March 2, 2008

All Good Things Come to an End...or at Least Change!

The 9 days of high pressure in the Selkirks have come to an end. But one thing is for sure, we made the most of it up here at Valhalla Mountain Touring. Our last day of guiding with the good weather and stable snow led us to the first guided descents of some rowdy lines in the lodge's backyard. Two lines in particular were only skied for the first time just 3 years ago. Both lines start right off the summit of Ruby Peak, one of our closest ski objectives. One is a 40-45 degree north facing chute named Lily's Line because we skied the first descent with our dog Lily-she loves the steep and deep! The other is a 45 degree face of stunted trees and AK style runnels, called Whit's Wet Dream, because the when Whit did the first descent with us, he broke his ever present unemotional monotone behavior with shouts of joy because the line was so good! Both lines run for a steep 1,000 vertical feet. Guiding, let alone skiing objectives like these are all about patience, weather, abilities and timing all syncing with one another, and last week that happened. Jonny (my assistant guide for a few weeks) and I set us up, ski cut some scary features and let some of our guests rip on down these classic lines. The light was a little flat, but you can still get a bit of appreciation for it in the video clip...

But as the title of this blog suggests, big line and exploration time is closing down on us...because a big high pressure system creates a big persistent weak layer.

Throughout British Columbia, and many places in the mountain west for that matter, the snow surface has been weakening with the clear weather. Without getting too snow geeky on you all, basically the clear nights cause moisture deposits on the snow surface-surface hoar (feathery crystals in the photo), and in higher elevations recrystalize the surface snow to be a more poorly bonded sugary grains. As soon as it starts to snow, the layer is buried and protected, and acts as the future weak layer for avalanches to fail on. Right now that weak layer has 30cm of snow on top of it, with a few natural avalanches occurring the other day. Tomorrow's forecast calls for another 15-25cm of snow, so it will start to get spooky in avalanche terrain.

Fortunately for us, our backyard is loaded with steep, treed, avalanche safe terrain. We won't be skiing the big lines, but picking the small ones through the timber, as the white stuff piles up deep and builds to face shot depth. All good things...sometimes change into other good things!

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