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The Stellar- Season 1, Coms 4

Snow Bunnies and Shred Hounds,

​​Monday’s storm system in the San Juans favored Telluride and points west and north. A secondary refresh looks to graze the range Wednesday. With less frequent precipitation events lately, we’ll take what we can get with this week’s series of “mini-storms”

Keep the faith snow lovers of the San Juans! Durango Weather Guy, Jeff Givens posits “the longer-term is a dartboard at this time, the Euro is showing more of the same, but the GFS is trying to show a stormy period for much of the US starting in 8-10 days. Hang in there, there is plenty of Winter left.”​


As of Monday January 27th, 2020 the avalanche danger for both the North and South San Juans is Moderate Level 2- Above Tree Line (ATL) and Low Level One- Near and Below Treeline (NTL &BTL)

Our primary avalanche concern remains a persistent slab problem on East through Southeast through South aspects ATL. Between precip events this January, the snow surface developed a series of crusts and weak snow layers that were successively buried with each new storm This excellent obs from CAIC forecaster Bill Nalli examines an above treeline, southeast aspect that’s been “smack dab in the bull’s eye” of our avalanche problem lately. In the video, Nalli stresses the need for attention to the “variable nature of slab thickness” and warns travelers to avoid surprises as slabs become less reactive and more stubborn.

"On southerly-facing slopes we now have a multi-layered, crust/facet sandwich of a snowpack that, with each successive storm or wind event, has been overloaded where these layers were the weakest. Look for this trend to continue until we get a prolonged period of weather that allows the same source that created them, the sun, to overpower the balance of energy and heat them into submission."

Bill Nalli NSJ Fx Discussion 1/27/20

Incremental loading due to this week’s mini-storms could possibly bring about a storm slab problem, but only if we see higher amounts of new snowfall. Additionally, these systems ensure we’ll have plenty of fresh snow available for transport- so as the winds ramp up this week, expect to see wind slab problems rise as well

We’re forecast to ride high pressure into the weekend and through the beginning of next week. A moderate dose of warmer temps and sunny skies could be just what our ever changing, mid-winter snowpack needs to remain healthy before we load things up with the inevitable crushers coming our way in February


For many backcountry recreationalists, the love for our gear and equipment can often feel as strong as our love for the mountains. This is not surprising. Being passionate about the tools and technology that allow us to experience wild places and share unforgettable times with our partners should be expected. Our equipment doesn’t just get us there and back. Its proven reliance and resilience affords us confidence to try new and more bold adventures in the future. And those old skis, the overly patched up down jacket and that faded, sweat stained backpack are a tangible archive of amazing travels, trips and turns of seasons’ past.

Refining our personal gear and travel systems is also a big part of keeping this sport stimulating. Making safe and efficient equipment choices for the backcountry in winter can be overwhelming. Professionals preach you should always have what you need or at least have the resources available to generate an alternative solution. But I also know we pack for our fears and often times our packs swell and become burdensome because we’ve let ourselves run wild with “what ifs?” and “then whats?”

Specific recommendations related to specs, sizes, manufacturers etc. are best left to our friends at Pine Needle Mountaineering. The FOSJ clinics and in store advice offered by Jeremy and his team far exceed what could be covered in this newsletter. But you should definitely consider hosting a Bag Dump Party for you and your partners!

What is a Bag Dump Party?

An informal gathering where you get to geek out over all the cool gear and equipment we love! These meet-ups are a great way to develop new connections, strengthen current partnerships and position your off-piste posse for future success. Bag Dump Parties are a time to talk, train and tighten the rigging for your team’s next backcountry mission.

So grab your friends, your backpack (packed up w/ your kit for a day in the mountains) and a couple of your favorite beverages and food stuffs. Gather together, be merry and dump out the contents of each individuals’ rucksack. Discuss the similarities and differences in equipment choices. Audit every piece of gear and gauge its effectiveness and necessity. Consider what folks are carrying for medical, repair and survival situations. What about extra layers and storm protection? Hydrate, nutrate and self-care supplies? Do the items in your pack add value? Or weight? Or both?

What is the utility of different pieces of kit? Can items be used for a variety of purposes or is there a need for specialized tools? Are you carrying gear that’s duplicitous or that can be split more equally amongst the group? What’s missing? What could befall you or your partners that you’d feel under equipped for? Are your systems too complex? Are you too comfortable? Are you going too light? Are systems too simple or barely adequate? Are you equipped to thrive or just survive?

There’s plenty of great equipment lists and gear discussions out there. But a Bag Dump Party is more powerful than packing your kit in isolation. A Bag Dump Party should focus on assembling the resources you’ll have with you in the field and exposing those contents to the value of critique and creativity with teammates. Bag Dump Parties are most effective when they follow an actual day of adventuring- return to town and dump the kit you used that day. It’ll provide you with a real time snapshot of what’s been on your back all day, what was used and what was not. This exercise will uncover areas for refinement within your backcountry systems. Plus, Bag Dump Parties are a wonderful excuse to sync with other snow kids and together, share the love of both gear and mountains.


The 42nd Annual Snowdown Festival kicks off this week and the crazier members of our tribe will be racing through the streets of Durango with beers and beacons in hand. The sights, sounds and stimuli of Snowdown prove an interesting contrast to the solitude and serenity afforded to us in the backcountry in winter.

We live and play in a beautiful place. We’re fortunate to experience and enjoy many colorful aspects of mountain town living. From raucous powder parties to silent, solo tours, be sure to celebrate it all and embrace every day in these amazing mountains

as a blessed gift.

Wax side down, hairy side up and keep it stellar friends!


The Stellar is a collaboration between Silverton Avalanche School and the Friends of the San Juans. These periodic communications are designed to be an educational resource for FOSJ members and are not intended to supplant avalanche bulletins, danger ratings and one’s own personal responsibility for backcountry travel choices and decision making. Silverton Avalanche School encourages all of FOSJ’s members to join us for additional snow and safety trainings. Learn More at or Contact Us at

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