Avalanche Awareness Program Manager and Forecaster, Logan Field office
Springtime in the mountains is one of the best times of the year. Longer days and lots of sunshine bring on great corn riding, bigger objectives, and changing avalanche problems. While those pesky weak layers we’ve been worrying about all season start to become dormant, we begin turning our attention to wet avalanches. While these avalanches are harder to predict than dry avalanches, a few signs can indicate the potential for these slow yet powerful slides to release. Recent wet avalanche activity, roller balls or ‘cinnamon rolls’ beginning to fall down the mountainside, and sinking into the snow beyond your boot top are all clues that wet avalanches are possible in the immediate future. So how do these changing conditions impact our travel plans? We start earlier in the morning and avoid solar aspects in the afternoon. If you plan on riding a slope exposed to the sun, make sure you’re down and clear before those clues above become apparent. As we get later into the season, this often means getting back to the vehicle by noon. We also have to be aware of slopes above us that might be out of sight, as these wet slides can run incredibly long distances.
A change in season also brings along a change in the way we pack our bags. A few extra pieces of gear get added to our stash in exchange for items that become obsolete as temperatures rise. We may no longer need to carry as many layers as we would in the cold months; that oversized puffy jacket and extra gloves can be left at home. If you’re skinning or snowshoeing, wet snow in the afternoon can stick to your climbing skins leaving you with an extra 15 lbs of weight to move with each passing step. Keep some skin wax on hand and apply as necessary to make your walk back to the car enjoyable. Additionally, early mornings are synonymous with icy skin tracks and bulletproof boot packs. Carrying a set of ski or boot crampons can make the difference between a great day in the mountains and a complete suffer-fest. If you’re snowmobiling, this also means delaying your morning start to allow the snow surface to heat up for more accessible travel. Finally, ensure your scratchers are down to help prevent overheating your engine. Pack some snow on your tunnel to cool things down if overheating becomes inevitable. Spring is a great time to enjoy the mountains with your friends and family; it only takes a little extra preparedness to make that time even better.
(Written by McKinley Talty)
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