A Day of Decisions in Avalanche Terrain

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | March 6, 2019      

This post sponsored by our publishing partner Cripple Creek Backcountry. They’ll help you toss the ski binding salad.

Margus, Sharon and I set out on a sunny Duffey day to wander around the north arm of the Cayoosh drainage, here in British Columbia, to see if Million Dollar Couloir was in good shape and if it was, to ski it. All three of us had done it before. During the prior weekend, one of this winter’s typical British Columbia coastal snow dumps had produced an exceptionally deep snowpack.

S facing shot off Rock and Roll Ridge – an alternate possibility for the day.

South facing “shot” (an avalanche path) off Rock and Roll Ridge – a possibility for the day.

The southwest winds accompanying the snow dump changed to northeast and northwest winds on Sunday. We got arctic temperatures come Monday. Shar and I went out Sunday in the Whistler area. We found good tree-sifted snow below treeline on southwest and south aspects. On Monday we climbed Duffey and found excellent snow on south aspects below the alpine ridge.

Tuesday found us one valley west of our Monday trip, skinning up the north arm of Cayoosh Creek. Temps were still cold; -13 C at valley bottom, but winds were nil, sky clear.

Red line shows proposed route to gain Cayoosh north glacier crossing E facing slopes.

Red line shows proposed route to gain Cayoosh north glacier, crossing east facing slopes.

Decision 1: There is terrain of north, southwest, west and south aspects in this drainage. To get to the bigger objective (the N facing Million Dollar Couloir) the approach takes a wide valley and wide glacier. We played the terrain card by picking this route so we would have choices.

The Million Dollar and the Cayoosh N Glacier.

The Million Dollar Couloir and the Cayoosh north Glacier.

Decision 2: As we gained the ridgeline a small, east facing feature slid as a Size 1, and remoted, also as a small Size 1. But we had a considerably larger more solar exposed east facing feature to traverse to gain the Cayoosh north glacier.

Closeup of the Size 1 and the remote on the E face. A small avalanche but nevertheless a sign

Closeup of the Size 1 avalanches on the east face. Small slides but nevertheless a sign.

Decision 3: We agreed the Million Dollar and (backup plan) the Half Million would both ski well. Million Dollar had actually slid in a previous storm cycle thus probably cleaning out major persistent weak layers so we figured sluff management would be the only avalanche factor we’d need to deal with on that route.

Another angle of that sz 1 and the remote – E aspect.

Another view of the small avalanches on the east aspect.

But weighing risk/reward traversing an east facing larger slope was not worth it, given the north facing slope we’d triggered while skinning up an east facing slope.

Exploded zoomed out shot of location of sz 1 NA and proposed route behind – all E aspects.

Exploded zoomed out shot of location of sz 1 NA and proposed route behind – all E aspects.

Decision 4: We skinned up to Rock and Roll Ridge to pick off a 500m slidepath that appeared to not be wind-affected. We had some settlements on the southwest aspects below treeline as we were skinning up. Expected because there was preserved-buried surface hoar below treeline and the wind slab formed a cohesive slab above the surface hoar. Unfortunately the target slidepath we skied had variable snow.

Up to Rock and Roll.

Up to Rock and Roll.

One side of the path was SW (slabby); the other was W (creamy boot-top). The path was too constrained to play with angles and use the west aspect.

Shar on the top of the path – approx 35 degree of variable conditions.

Shar on the top of the path – approximately 35 degree angle, variable conditions.

In retrospect, perhaps we placed too much reliance on the previous day’s south and southwest slopes being good. Instead we should have picked other paths further down the ridge which were wider and less constrained.

Skiing one at a time.

Skiing one-at-a-time.

Entire avalanche path.

Entire avalanche path.

Once we were done, we’d ascended about 1100 meters and not skied much. But we had a good day in the sun, collected information and made observations, made decisions based on what we saw, and finished contented. Plus the valley bottom had warmed up to a balmy -7 when we were done, and the beers were tasty

Trip complete.

Trip complete.


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7 Responses to “A Day of Decisions in Avalanche Terrain”

  1. Dave March 7th, 2019 2:39 pm

    Nice trip report Lee! I’ll make it back up to your neck one of these days and ski some of that rad stuff with ya! Be well,
    Dave, TMS

  2. Andrew March 10th, 2019 11:25 am

    I’m hoping that “His Louness” is drafting some observations on Colorado’s “historic avalanche conditions”…I’m curious how these “historic” conditions jive with Lou’s tremendous, decades-long anecdotal observations of a life lived outdoors in Colorado’s mountains…please!?

  3. Lou Dawson 2 March 11th, 2019 8:53 am

    Hey Andrew, I’m not exactly sure what they mean by “historic.” Pretty funny how euphemisms like that creep into the discussion. Better writing would be something like “the largest avalanches in ?? years.” I remember many many enormous avalanches around here, that took out entire old-growth forests. Some of those paths might have run again, but some have not. Typical media hysteria about the most recent, but we indeed have some wonderful weather lately. I’m not a big fan of how the media covers this stuff — never was, probably never will be. Though I do have sympathy on Colorado news outlets, they’re probably getting a little burnt out on covering legal pot. Lou

  4. Jonny B March 11th, 2019 9:39 am

    Off topic question. What packs are being used by the two skiers? I especially like the blue roll-top pack. I’m in the market for a very simple daily-driver backpack and was thinking a roll-top. Thanks in advance!

  5. Kristian March 11th, 2019 10:17 am

    550 Red Mountain Pass between Ouray and Silverton is closed indefinitely with numerous avalanches now covering the road with depths up to 60 feet.

    The Riverside snow shed is full of snow and you can walk the entire length touching the ceiling lights.

  6. Lou Dawson 2 March 11th, 2019 10:30 am

    We were in Ouray during the storm, couldn’t get to the huts on Red, well aware of what was going on. Historic? Red has been known for enormous killer avalanches for many years. The slides that closed the road were mostly caused by artificial avalanche control, blasting that was not performed the same way in the past, thus no comparison between present as more “historic” than the past. Also, they built the snow shed for a reason (smile). Lou

  7. Lee Lau March 13th, 2019 3:15 pm

    @Dave – it would be a treat to ski with you again especially if you make it back up north

    @JonnyB – the packs are made by Alpine Threadworks. The owner is a skier and a guide with a pack-making habit. The prices are very reasonable (less expensive than an Arcteryx pack for example). Quality is top-notch and best of all – the packs can be customized to fit body size or needs. http://www.alpinethreadworks.com/about.html

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