Despite thin conditions out there, the recent addition of small amounts of cold low density snow has made for good conservative turns where there is enough shelter and coverage to ski. Controlling the desire to cut loose, and ski with abandon is the hardest part, as a lot of terrain looks good, but in reality there are a significant amount of lurking snow snakes just under the surface. Yesterday there was a large amount of 3-5mm surface hoar residing in the sheltered areas of Mammoth Bowl (see 12/28 Mammoth Bowl observation). It will be good to track these feathery crystals to see if they hang around or get destroyed in the near future. Surface Hoar can be one of the biggest drivers of avalanche formation when it remains undisturbed and is buried by an overlying slab.
The 9300-10000ft elevations in the Sherwins have around 60-70cm of snow at their maximum, whereas areas around the Mammoth crest 10000-11000ft hold the deepest snow from 120-160cm. Snow depths drastically decrease as you descend below 9000ft and 15-30cm snow depth is standard in the low lying areas. Lack of much snow in the southern part of the forecast area (Bishop Creek) has led to not much skiing nor observations. Snow depth totals in the northern end of the zone (Virginia Lakes) area are still holding on average 60-90cm in depth and are a mixed bag of faceting layers and hard thin wind slabs (see 12/26 Virginia Lks observation). Snowpack depths in general are quite thin, and this combined with residing cold temperatures are driving strong temperature gradients across the snow (see 12/28 Sherwins temp profile observation). These two conditions are leading to more faceting and metamorphism of the residing snow on the ground. The faceting process is essentially making the snowpack much weaker than it was at the beginning of the month in some areas, but it also has had the benefit on other slopes of starting to break down and decompose some of the existing spatially variable wind slabs that developed during December. We will have to see how it all sorts out when we get the next big load of snow—something were all hoping will happen soon.