After a cold blustery week the forecast for this weekend looks pretty decent with sunny skies in the forecast across western Canada and cold temperatures in the negative double digits overnight and below freezing during the day.
With all of the recent snowfall and wintery atmosphere, skiing is on everyone's minds. Days feel short, I'm packing extra layers and a thermos, bringing along a headlamp. How quickly things can change at this time of the year!
Here in the Rockies weather stations are showing around 20 cm of snow at 2000 m, and at treeline and above it's more like 30-40+ cm. At Rogers Pass Fidelity, at around 1900 m, is showing almost 90 cm of snow.
Social media of course has us believe that there are amazing turns to be had out there. After quickly shifting gears from mountain biking and rock climbing I've been out myself a couple of times. I set my expectations pretty low and the conditions certainly met those expectations. If your goals are to get out into the alpine, slide around a bit, get some exercise and views, then you can certainly achieve those goals right now but there are some caveats.
The shallow snowpack presents a number of serious hazards. The one on everyone's mind after the tragic accident earlier this week is falling and hurting yourself. There are scantly buried hazards everywhere until you get into the alpine and even then just the hard ground surface could hurt you if you land on it badly. Mid-winter snow is soft and forgiving and usually a fall is good fun. But right now think "hard as a skateboard park" with sharp pointy things everywhere covered up by just enough insubstantial snowy puff to get you moving too fast. Please remember to wear your helmet when appropriate and be prepared for a surprise impact with a buried hazard on your way down.
If you do get up into the alpine, the glaciers will have a siren's lure. We all know this is a bad time of the year for traveling on glaciers. The crevasses which were so apparent this summer are still there, about as shallowly covered as the stumps and rocks elsewhere. Even 100 cm isn't enough to create a decent bridge, and there will be really large crevasses hidden by drifted-in sugary snow. So I would use a lot of caution, along with a rope, harness, probe and all of my glacier travel expertise, if I ventured onto the ice this weekend.
The final hazard that comes to mind is avalanche. At the lower elevations this is not a big deal right now. Even in the alpine, there's not a ton of snow. But there's been some wind (mainly southwesterly but also northerly) this past week accompanying the new snowfall and there will be isolated loaded features to be wary of including cornices. Being buried will be the least of your worries if you get caught in an avalanche. If falling while skiing and hitting your head on a sharp rock is bad, think about being tumbled down a few hundred metres over a talus slope in a shallow avalanche. Triggers for avalanches in big alpine features (e.g. French & Robertson Glaciers or Ranger Creek zones) include sun and wind loading.
Ice climbing: There's ice in those cold high dark nasty gullies and it's calling to some of you I'm sure. Overhead hazard is the main concern. I saw some pretty impressive sluffs coming out of high alpine features earlier this week. And of course the ice itself is thin and fragile and often wet especially on sun exposed crags.
Hiking: is still very possible, especially at lower elevations. But it will be slippery with compact snow and icy patches so be sure to bring along your cleats and walking poles. Hikers now need to consider the avalanche hazard in their planning.
Ice skating: This year unfortunately it snowed quite a bit as the shallower ponds froze, so we'll have to hold out hope for the larger lakes to freeze before we get really good ice skating. The Bow Valley Wild Ice FB page is a great way to find out what's "in".
So where to go? This weekend I would gravitate towards an area I was familiar with, and be willing to turn around if things don't seem right. Remain injury free and you're looking at an 8 month winter season. There's plenty of time for the conditions to improve.
ACMG Mountain Guide