Rockies: Helen Shoulder and Little Crowfoot
Spent the weekend with a Backcountry Ski Leaders course from the ACC Calgary Section.
Saturday: Up to Helen Shoulder. Last winter's big avalanche cycle tore out a huge swath of forest just where the summer trail opens up, thus exposing this portion of the trail to future large events. Excellent ski quality on both NE and SW aspects.
On the NE side the height of snow is about 120cm. There is about 30 cm of low density light powder and facets on the surface within which is hidden 1cm large surface hoar crystals and weak facets. Just as the Parks bulletin has been reporting, this layer will become problematic once the snow above it settles and stiffens creating a classic slab above a persistent weak layer. A similar situation could occur if we are lucky enough to get another dump of new snow.
The surface hoar was not as prevalent on the SW aspect and the depth of recent soft snow there was less (15 - 20cm).
We skied at tree-line and below. The higher elevation alpine slopes appear to have been ravaged by recent winds. Where we skied there was little to no wind affected snow. We played a conservative game and kept to slopes that were well less than 30 degrees and skied widely spaced out any time there was exposure to any overhead hazard. We didn't challenge any of the large slopes or steeper slopes.
On Sunday we headed up toward Little Crowfoot Peak with the intention of skiing the slopes just above tree-line rather than going for the summit. The travel up the canyon was good until the end of the canyon, where things get a bit sketchy for 10 or 20 meters. Skiing in the open above tree-line was quite good but not as exceptional as the day before. Some wind had gotten in here but by being observant you could stay away from the wind crust and wind slabs.
We had a few good whumpfs on the flats heading toward the moraines. The surface hoar is lurking here too. Both days you could easily find the weak layer discussed in the bulletin simply by doing hand shears or other tests where either facets or crust of surface hoar generally produced easy to moderate sudden results (pops). In the alpine we stuck to terrain that was less than 30 degrees again.
During the weekend we saw snowballing on steep S and W aspects due to the warm temperatures (inversion) and sunny skies. It felt a bit more like mid-February than mid-January.