The long awaited real deal, genuine, bona fide winter storm is almost here. Winter has returned and most of us are accustomed to mild weather and generally stable snowpacks. The next few days brings welcome snow and many more areas will now be open for skiing and riding.
Refresh your companion rescue skills and head to the Beacon Basin this morning. New snow measured in feet, sustained winds and the prospect of powder skiing are the perfect recipe for trouble if you let the lure of untracked snow override common sense. Stick to lower angle terrain in the trees during the storm and avoid wind loaded slopes.
In addition to the obvious avalanche problem of storm slabs and direct action avalanches, facets under a series of crusts in the upper 6- to 8 inches of the snowpack in the Mammoth Basin are a potential weak layer. Widespread near surface facets at high exposed elevations may be blown away by storm winds but may survive in glades and sheltered areas. Recently formed wind drifts sitting up on near surface facets will likely be sensitive to the weight of a skier or rider by tomorrow morning.
Overall, snowpack conditions are quite different between mid and high elevations. Although temperatures have been relatively warm at 8,500 to 9,500 ft breezes and the large areas above treeline on shaded north aspects have kept the snow dry and cool. Mid elevation snowpacks are melting on the surface and the series of crusts formed over the past 5 days all have facets under the crusts and are reactive in stability tests.