Tis the season when we all get excited to ski in the hills once again. Its already gotten cold and this morning folks in Salt Lake woke to traces of snow down to the valley floor, undoubtedly tickling every skiers urge for winter exploits.
Historically, Fall in the Mountain West can see a full spectrum of weather conditions, from down right hot and dry (my tomatoes grew last season into mid November) to cold and wet. And it's important to remember that how conditions present at the high elevations now will transpire to how soon we are able ski what we want later. Early season snow can be a mixed blessing. We all want a snowy winter but what is perhaps the most important aspect for snow stability in coming months is the timing of our weather early in the season.
Ok, remember back to your level I avalanche training to that often-confusing topic of temperature gradients and faceting. Recall that stuff? No? Well, the take home is that we need to have patience as winter settles into gear, take any early season turns as a bonus and remember that the real season for skiing the big, high, northerly stuff historically starts in February around here. Early snows that don't melt before getting buried again = sugary weak snow and a recipe for a slab avalanche. Perhaps the greatest use in getting out in the mountains in the early season is to see firsthand where the early season snows hang onto the landscape and conversely where they melt off prior to the meat of winter coming in. The problem is that most folks want to ski where the snow base is deepest early season and that most often coincides with the areas with the weakest snowpack structure. So what's the best weather recipe for ideal future snow stability in a variety of locations? Think warm and dry then turn winter on Dec 1 with a fire hose effect of storms that doesn't stop until spring.
The early season, if anything, is a great time for learning about snow and preparing ourselves for winter. Tread lightly, polish up on essential skills like self-rescue, take and avalanche course if you have yet to or refresh and start paying attention to the weather, as it will largely determine base structure for the winter to come.
We are offing avalanche skills refresher courses this early season, please contact for details! There is no substitute for firsthand learning in the field with a Pro!
Tread lightly my friends!
Photo: An early season type, striated, snowpack in NZ 2007, Mt. Olympus.