December 18, 2007:
This isn't really ski touring, but XC skate skiing is one of those sports (along with rando racing and cyclocross) that's so insanely difficult that it's easy to get to that place where you're seeing little white spots on the horizon, so I figure this is appropriate.
US Ski Team member Kikkan Randall last Sunday became the first US woman ever to win a World Cup cross country race, outkicking Norwegian Astrid Jacobsen and Russian Natalia Korosteleva by the narrowest of margins in a sprint race in Demino, Russia. Randall remembered being tentative in last year's event at the same venue (when she took third) and decided "no guts, no glory" as she hammered up the final hill and was never caught.
Congrats to Kikkan and the entire US XC team - simply outstanding!
Full story here
December 15, 2007:
We've had a hard few weeks in the Northwest.
Too little snow. Too much snow. Too much rain. Too little snow again.
A week after the search for three missing backcountry snowboarders near Crystal Mt. was called off, and two hikers returning from Snow Lake died in a avalanche, the cycle seems set to repeat itself. The huge rain event of December 2-3 left masses of bulletproof rain crust (often punctuated with nasty runnels). A solid week and a half of below normal temperatures and little snow left a nice layer of surface hoar over much of the Cascades. Our on-snow research last Tuesday (see above pic) indicated very poor bonding between the 2 to 6 inches of wind deposited fresh and the ice, with nice clean slabs breaking loose as we ski-cramponed our way up Pan Point.
Now we get what looks like three snow-laden systems moving through the area, with 10-12 inches of new on Friday-Saturday, another dump on Monday, and a third on Wednesday. Who thinks it's going to slide? It's bad form to second-guess avalanche victims, and I don't know any of the people involved in the December 2 incidents or what was going through their minds as they planned their trips, though I'm always suspicious when I hear of people who claim to know storms are coming and go out without skis or snowshoes. What I do try to do is read the reports of the trips and try to figure out if they made mistakes that I might also have made.
Friends who I had contacted about skiing on December 2 were already e-mailing back on Thursday, the 29th of November with reservations about skiing, as least on anything steeper than 20 degrees or above treeline. After checking the reports on NWAC and NOAA and looking at the models on UNISYS, I had to concur, and we planned on sticking with low-angle slogging somewhere near Snoqualmie. I ended up having to dig my high-centered car out three times along the Alpental road before settling on a couple of laps up Summit West - but the shooting cracks in the snow with every skin step, and the clean shears going down at least two and a half feet around the track made a big impression on all of the skiers in the vicinity (PeteA and Randy from TAY both had groups at West as well).
Media reports indicated that a group of hikers who survived an ill-planned trip to Melakwa Lake on the same weekend had anticipated snow but vastly underestimated the quantity. It's a bit hard to believe that they'd make this mistake if they had looked at any forecasts after Wednesday the 28th, but again I don't really know anything about their planning. The lesson to be taken from this, I suppose, is to look often at the forecast while you're in the planning stages for a trip, then get the most current possible weather information by checking right as you leave the house (or better yet, bring your laptop or mobile device and check from the car before you skin up).
Some other thoughts that crossed my mind, in no particular order:
Be familiar with the weather from the past several weeks, as well as the present conditions and forecast. It affects the stability of the snowpack in a big way.
Be able to analyse the stability of the snow on the spot, and be willing to change your plans or adjust your route according to what you see. If you haven't taken an avalanche course yet, find time to do so. Regardless of what the NWAC report or anyone else says, conditions can and do change with time, aspect, temperature and solar exposure. Reports are issued for GENERAL risk levels in very large geographical areas (like Washington Cascades west of the Crest) and can't possibly apply to every situation a lone backcountry skier might face. Once you exit the ski area boundary, you're responsible for yourself, and unless you're paying a guide, you have no one else to blame.
Always bring your skis. And be careful out there.
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"Incoming" covers developments that have personal interest to me (ie. gear I might consider acquiring, or events I feel may impact the sport of skiing) - it is by no means meant to be a comprehensive enumeration of gear or events in the ski world at large. Feel free to contact me via the randosaigai.com link below with news or images that may be of interest . . .
© 2007 Gregory C. Louie