It's been an interesting week for mountain conditions. The week started off cold and wintery and now we've got a sneak peak at spring with high winds and warming temperatures. While I was skiing up at Highwood Pass two days ago the snow below 2100 m was moist, and the occasional loose avalanche triggered by warming could be seen in steep terrain. Snow on shaded aspects above 2100 m was still dry. But of course it isn't spring. The snowpack is very, very thin still.
The storm that has come in over the past 24 hours has brought a fair bit of precipitation. I haven't had many first-hand reports, but telemetry stations are indicating that the high alpine has had a good 30 cm in heavy snow zones like the Parker's Ridge area and around 5-15 cm elsewhere. Winds have been howling pretty good.
The trend over the next few days is for warm, sunny daytime weather and settling of the winds with cool overnight lows below freezing. It looks like a really nice weekend for weather.
Some alpine zones are now above threshold for large avalanches. Last week we had lows down to -20C, and now weather stations at close to 3000 m are reporting moderate to high winds and close to freezing temperatures. So I would be cautious venturing into the alpine and assume a Considerable avalanche hazard until I verified that snowfall amounts have been on the low side and temperatures have cooled back down.
At Treeline yesterday human triggered loose wet avalanches to size 1.5 were observed on the east side of the Rockies. This would especially be a concern in gully features that could funnel smaller avalanches triggered by daytime warming, such as ice climbs.
Rockfall hazard will increase with warm temperatures and the forecasted sun -- again, consider your exposure in gully features or ice climbs that face the sun or are below loose steep terrain.
Glacier travel is no better this weekend than it was last weekend. If you venture onto the glaciers go fully prepared. Especially in areas that have had more snowfall and wind this past week, the crevasses will be well hidden and poorly bridged.
I'm sure everyone is still worried about rocks, stumps and other shallowly buried hazards. Hooking a tip and falling headfirst onto something hard and sharp is not unlikely these days, so lets keep the tips up and the helmets on!
WHAT TO DO
Looking at the forecast for the next few days, believe it or not I'm thinking of maybe a sunny low-elevation rock climbing crag, or hitting the river for a last paddle. I'm not quite ready to let go of our lovely fall and I think we can squeak out another day or two of it yet.
Ice climbing has quickly improved. I was blown away by all the ice that's formed up over the past week and a half. While the snow amounts below treeline are generally below threshold for avalanche hazard, think about the terrain above you. Cold nights, early starts and early finishes, and shady destinations may help keep you safe.
Hikers are still at it, especially on lower elevation sunny aspects. I saw a group on skier compacted trails on Wednesday and it looked like they were enjoying the experience despite the occasional boot full of snow. Bring your cleats, gaiters, ski poles, as well as someone in your group who knows a thing or two about avalanche hazard -- it's that time of the year already. While areas like Chester Lake will have a hard icy trail you might benefit from snowshoes in areas less travelled.
Skiing at Treeline elevations and lower is no good anywhere right now. Once you get up high you'll have to hunt for untracked snow that isn't perilously shallow. But I have to admit it felt good to be out sliding around this week. Around Rogers Pass with close to a meter of snow in the Alpine you are bound to find some great turns with a bit of work, but it's definitely still heads-up and both hands on the stick. In the Rockies it's a bit easier to get up high but it's still pretty darned shallow. All in all I can't really recommend skiing wholeheartedly yet. The ski hills, which have started to open already, might disagree with me on that one but of course they've been making snow like crazy this month.
ACMG Mountain Guide