The Snowpack, Where We are Now...
(Photo Above: Mid January at Alta's Peruvian Lodge. Dude! Where's my car?)
This season the snow has piled up in the Cottonwood Canyons. It's looking very white up there at the moment! We had a cool and dry (overall) start to the season in October and November, which created weak, sugary snow near the ground and an impetus for avalanche activity. Since Christmas, however, we have had a series of large storms, which have really piled up! Avalanche hazard rose significantly during the storms but has now fallen off as the snowpack has adjusted itself. Alta and Brighton right now are around the 100” (2.54m) mark for base depth with another moderately large storm system on the way for this weekend. We are now a touch above our median seasonal average for snow water equivalent!
In areas where we have had the most snowfall, the deep resultant snowpack has helped heal the underlying weaknesses left over from the fall. The Cottonwood Canyons have good stability overall now and we have been able to get skiers into all types of terrain over the past week. Overall, this trend should continue through the bulk of the remainder of the season. We will have some instability associated with storm snow at times but the deep weaknesses that we dealt with early in the season are likely no longer a factor.
(Photo Below: DEEP at Solitude in upper Big Cottonwood Canyon)
Snow stability outside the core of the Wasatch Range, in areas such as the Uintas, the Southern Wasatch, the Manti-Skyline, Tushar Mountains and the La Sals to name a few is a much different story. Stability in these 'peripheral ranges' of the state is far worse off due to much shallower overall snowpack depths. The old snow near the ground in these areas has not improved in its cohesion and it is still fairly likely to cause failures in the overlaying snow, producing significant slides.
(Photo Below: results from artillery control work in Provo Canyon during a large snow event in Mid January that buried all lanes of traffic on US Hyw 189 40' deep)
Although the surface conditions in these areas may well be delightful, it is important to still show refrain from selecting steep and committing terrain. It is likely that stability in these outlaying areas will continue to be an issue for some weeks to come but plenty of good skiing can be still be done in lower angle terrain which is not exposed to avalanche prone slopes above. Alternatively, find a mountain range with deeper snowpack if you want to ski steeper terrain.
(Photo Below: A deep, forgiving snowpack allowed for primo turns on Mt. Wolverine in the Upper Cottonwoods)
Skiing and over snow travel conditions are terrific right now and they will only improve this weekend. Come get it while you can! Book today!
(Photo Below: A glorious late December day in the Alta Backcountry)