October 6th, is it winter yet? Last night we had our first significant snowfall here in Colorado. We where jonesin' and so headed up with Alex Gelb to see what was going on in the high country. A nice drive to the Divide and after a long overdue gear-up we where stepping into our bindings and skinning up-hill. Oh, what a great feeling!
After waking up to about 5 inches on my truck at 9,000ft I had a feeling that we would be able to find something to slide our boards on. The weather in town was clearing as the day progressed but we could see the Divide holding the storm so we decided to let it build for a couple more hours before we headed up. Sunny in town transitioned to single digits, 20-25mph winds, and low visibility up high on the Divide. We started skinning from the truck at about 11,000ft. For the most part we saw 5-6inches of soft powder as we skinned up just above 12,500ft. As we got higher we noticed much more wind affect in the form of windslab and cornices forming on the leeward of ridge-tops. Poking around we found these cornices developed up to 3ft+ thick at varying hardness and isolated instability with the old bed surfaces. The weak layers have begun.
We reached our intended summit in cold, windy, and low visibility conditions. I'm not going to lie when I say that it was a great feeling having the cold wind blow on my face. Regardless, a quick transition and discussion of our route. Our slope of choice was a mid 20 degree slope down the ridge. After the first couple of turns initiated a small whumpf and shooting crack. Sure sign of the instabilities that have already formed. After about a dozen or so turns we where back on our way down and dodging sharks as we skied to the truck.
The thing to look for in the coming weeks will be how much of this snow will melt vs how much will stay and rot and then be buried by the next storm. We ran into pro skier Doug Evans on the way back down and chatted for a bit. He posted this picture from the same day which really gives you an idea of how even isolated instabilities can get you into some big trouble if you aren't aware of your surroundings. If you haven't already then it's probably about time you start brushing up on your avalanche skills!