Shifting wind directions with light new snow reminds me of an incident a few years ago that occurred on Red Slate Mtn. A group went to ski steep confined north facing terrain, and rationalized that since the winds were now blowing out of the north and should be stripping snow from north-facing slopes rather than depositing, that their objective would be free from wind slab hazard. Their assumption seemed confirmed as they descended the north facing slope and found etched away snow surfaces, only to be quite surprised when the 5th skier down triggered a stubborn wind slab and went for a harrowing 1000’+ ride and luckily only blew out his ACL. The group saw what they wanted to see, and forgot about the previous day’s SW winds which were loading that same terrain. Incidents like this are good reminders of the complexities of the snowpack, and our own human influences that affect our decision making.
Recent field observations have found many areas of weak faceted snow under either melt-freeze crusts or under thicker old stout wind-board. Up until recently these weak layers have not led to unstable slopes, for either there hasn’t been a cohesive enough slab above (melt-freeze crust scenario), or the overlying wind-board is very strong and supports itself. However, if these weak layers exist under areas of recent new wind load, they may now be a real threat. We haven't found this scenario yet, but our observations have been quite limited.
- Melt-Freeze crust / facet combo: With the new wind-loading, areas may now exist where a cohesive slab does lie on top of the fragile melt freeze crust/facet combination. A failure could propagate much further than expected across a slope.
- Wind-board / facet combo: A smaller wind slab avalanche could be enough force now to trigger a deeper failure under the stout wind-board, also resulting in a much larger than expected avalanche.
Do your own localized assessments in safe areas, and recognize the potential that may exist.
This light snow has made for great riding conditions, but remember it's still a very thin snowpack in many areas! Beware of those lurking rocks and logs!
Our range is huge, so please share your findings with us thru our observation page!