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A Troublesome Turn

Red Mountain Divide, 10/17/18

Since mid-October, backcountry skiers in the Northern San Juans have been enjoying amazing pre-winter turns. RMP, Velocity, Commodore and the Richmond/Camp Bird zones were all seeing significant early season action.


We did experience heightened avy danger and conditions in early November. Check out my Early Season Snowpack post for more here.

However, heading into Turkey Day, avalanche danger was minimal with isolated trouble spots being found up high, ATL on specific N/NE pockets.

In summary, Southern slopes were roasted &/or bare, East slopes were mixed mank and Wests were very low tide. But the riding on NWest aspects both BTL and NTL was consistently amazing….1-2 foot of fresh, unconsolidated sugar for your spraying pleasure! You may of even sniffed out some W/NW pockets up high: Hollywood, Hollywood apron, Powerline, Putney Forest all saw significant action this November. It was impressive (and uncommon) for sure:

But there was cause for concern and when new snow returned, we were ripe for some avy action. CAIC’s profile highlighting a troubling layer up high, prior to the holiday:

Prospect pre-holiday storm-11/21 A hasty pit dug on the ridge above the Canadian Rib confirmed ugly, unconsolidated facets in the lower reaches of the snowpack.

While the masses stuffed their gullets, mother nature baked up a feast of fresh snow and high winds. And the unsuspecting turkeys who trotted into the alpine post-holiday, encountered a much different avalanche hazard:

"Three-day totals in the North San Juan zone are: 5" on Lizard Head Pass, 12" around Telluride, 14" on Red Mountain Pass, and 5" on Slumgullion Pass. In the South San Juan zone: 8" on Molas and Coal Bank Passes, and 7" on Wolf Creek Pass."

And predictably, the reports of slides and near misses started to filter out to the community:

Even Wolf Creek got into the act….we experienced multiple, scary collapses of the lower angle slopes that lead into the North facing, avalanche prone Suicide Bowl on 11/25

So our late November snowpack has taken a troubling turn and a rash of avalanches, especially on RMP are a clear indication that it’s time to roll back the pre-season, get after mindset many have entrenched themselves in. Scary Moderate, Persistent Slab problems are our new norm. Sounds more like the San Juans....

From CAIC, 11/27- "Persistent Slab problems can linger for days, weeks, or even months. Triggering an avalanche will become more difficult each day. Today may not be the best day for you to step out into steeper, consequential terrain. Terrain avoidance is your best course of action to help reduce your interaction with this dangerous avalanche problem."

With more snow on the way this week, the slow to heal facet layer on the bottom of our snowpack is sure to continue to give us problems. If this week’s storm(s) manifest, it's only going to become more complex out there.

Stay safe out there.

'tis the season for soul turns….

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