Avy Class – Day 2,3 – Let the Storm of 2010 Begin!

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | December 19, 2010      

The second and third days of our avy course with Crested Butte Mountain Guides has gone well. The second day we dug around and learned how to do a full on professional pit. I’ve never done a full snow profile before, or even looked this close at the various types of snow crystals. It was interesting to be able to see the different types in various layers, and have an understanding of how they got to be that way. I feel like I won’t be digging many full profile pits every time I go backcountry skiing, but I’d still like to dig some regularly, simply to learn more about snow science

Yes, this is an avalanche class. Doesn't mean we can't get some epic powder skiing along the way! My instructor Mike skiing.

Yes, this is an avalanche class. Doesn't mean we can't get some epic powder skiing along the way! My instructor Mike skiing.

The third day we did a longer ski tour up Washington Gulch, in order to learn some more about terrain selection and dig some more pits. Over night Crested Butte received about two feet of extremely low density snow, and it was interesting to see how the pits compared to the ones we dug the day before. The light snow didn’t do a whole lot for avalanche danger, but the top seven or so centimeters was slightly more dense, which created some interesting reactions in the snowpack. As we were skinning up, we remote triggered tons of small avalanches of the thin top layer, on anything over about 30 degrees. Since the new snow was so thin and so low density it wasn’t much of a hazard, but it was really unique and interesting to see so much activity going on. I definitely learned quite a bit. After finishing our pits and reaching the top, we had an amazing run down the side of the bowl. The snow was incredibly blower, this is going to be a tough day to beat for the lightest snow I’ve skied this year. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

Mike and Jayson demonstrating a snow profile, in a nice interesting Colorado snowpack.


Coop coming up for air.

Mike examining some rimed dendrites up close

Mike examining some rimed dendrites up close

When the snow is to light to get into the density gauge, you just have to ski it to figure it out. Conclusion: blower.

According to Crested Butte Mountain Guides, come take an avy course from them and they’ll provide skiing like this any day of the winter, since they know all the best places — just kidding, as their snowpack is variable like anywhere else in the world — but these guys do know their way around.


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10 Responses to “Avy Class – Day 2,3 – Let the Storm of 2010 Begin!”

  1. Wick December 19th, 2010 2:50 pm

    Confirmation on the choker observation one valley West!

  2. Paul Wildenauer December 19th, 2010 2:55 pm

    Perfect snow! :mrgreen:

  3. brian p. harder December 19th, 2010 8:05 pm

    Epic day here in J-Hole, as well. Best day of the year, so far!

  4. Lou December 19th, 2010 8:17 pm

    Good news Brian! Nice to see everyone so psyched!

  5. Andrew Yasso December 20th, 2010 3:51 pm

    Louie, I’m glad you’ve taken your Level 2; now you are qualified enough to ski with me. Now I just need to ski for 10 years so I’m qualified to ski with you!

  6. Lou December 20th, 2010 8:13 pm

    Any ____TG____ crystals under that snow, Louie and instructors?! 😀

  7. Randonnee December 20th, 2010 10:38 pm

    Descending in a cloud of spatial dendrites…or radiating dendrite? Yeah, blower!

  8. Lou December 21st, 2010 6:57 am

    The way I look at it pits are useful if you can find a safe spot to dig that’s the same elevation and aspect as suspected starting zone, and if not taken as the end-all, but rather just another factor added to route finding, snowpack history, and general observations. And yeah, when I know an area and ski it much, I don’t dig many pits.

    Also, I’ve found that if I’m going to be spending multiple days skiing in an area, digging several pits the first day can give me an excellent idea of if the snowpack is really dicy or perhaps bonded well and thus less scary.

    Where I find them truly useful is to quickly evaluate a new storm layer, since in our climate (Colorado) new storms usually come in inches, not feet (other than right now), so such hasty pits can sometimes even be dug with the hands or ski pole baskets.

  9. Maarten December 21st, 2010 6:38 am

    Hi Louie,

    Besides the snow science, is digging snow pits really that useful? There will always be a dangerous layer somewhere hidden below, and on top of that the conditions might be different again 100m away. You’ll have to dig up the entire mountain to be able to say something about avalanche potential 🙂

    To my opinion, terrain selection is a far more useful aproach (and much more time saving).

    During my Avy class the instructor recommended testing cornices for snow pack stability. Standing on top of one, simply start pounding close to the edge with one ski and see if you can trigger a mini-avalanche (don’t do dangerous cornices of course!). The easiness of triggering one tells you something about the conditions of that day. Of course, experience is the key here as with most avalanche things 😉

  10. Jayson Simons-Jones December 21st, 2010 2:11 pm


    No TG snow under all this new stuff, but there were some faceted grains 🙂

    And as one of Louie’s instructors on this course, I’d agree that pits are only one part of the equation, and that spatial variability plays an enormous role in skier triggering of avalanches, especially in a generally windy and shallow snowpack such as ours here in CO.

    With that being said, snowpits, especially operational ones, can be an incredibly useful tool and one of the only ones, to track changes in instability over time and if these instabilities are strengthening or weakening…therefore they are a better and more commonly used tool among the experienced crowd I feel, as a tool to help with instability predictions on a more longer term view, then in the short term immediate decision-making, on if an individual slope is safe to ski or not.

    Jayson (Crested Butte Mountain Guides AVY 2 Instructor)

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