Day off  from Troy’s today and I was eager to get back out to EV to see what the ten inches and jet stream winds had done to the north facing aspects of East Vail.  I definitely was concerned and I had a feeling that Avi rating was easily considerable as CAIC had reported, and probably more like high danger specifically in EV due to what had been occurring weather/wind wise over the last two days.  If I was heading out I was going to make damn sure I was  in good company.  I was. I met up with our snow science and event coordinator Luke, along with Haines heli guide extraordinaire Will at the Visti.  Solid.

Spooky day all around.  The constant sound of the bombs tossed by Vail Ski patrol resonated over the howling ridge top winds. The bruised, purple grey clouds thickened and lowered all day over the scoured moonscape of the Gore.  Small tendrils of snow touched the tops of the peaks, but nothing from the predicted blizzard yet.

Geared up at Two Elk and we were off.  The skin up to chair twenty-one was spent catching up with Will, hadn’t skied with him since Valdez. Luke and I listening to stories of Haines spines, helicopters, film crews and Oakland Raider’s Cheerleaders’ that were so over the top they had to be true. Check out This is My Year to see what Will, Xavier De La Rue and crew and SEABA have been up to.  Our storm day was rolling along.  The high winds had transformed the rippling ridge lines and angular faces of the Gore Range into a peppery black, brown and white moonscape as all the storm snow that wasn”t locked down was now in Kansas.

Up behind chair twenty-one, we get our first indicator of how things are gonna be .  Patrol holds us up at the backside of the lift. Blasting over in Red Square,  Wayne the patroller says fifteen minute wait.  No problem, EVI has nothing but total respect for patrol, so we hung out.

I turned to check out the area behind the lift that drops into Mushroom Bowl a saw a good size slide had ripped out with Patrol’s two pound bomb.  Another patroller and a Vail photographer were perched on top a hanging block checking it out. 150 ft wide, two to three feet deep winds slab failing on the old snow/new snow interface, a knife hard, wind scoured crust.  It ran over the roll and into the trees.  Same place behind the path to China Wall that ripped a week ago.  It’s a great test slope as the 3o plus westerly winds  load it fiercely. Luke Will and I took notice and headed out as soon as they let us.   Wind loading was, no doubt,  going to be a factor on our route decision.

Behind Orient Express

Top of the World and we started poking around.  Small cracking as we checked out skier’s left off the top, left side of Abe’s.  Punchy thigh deep on the windward, north facing Benchmark side.  On the ridge top and the lee side of the ridge, it was scoured and bushes and rocks poking through, by far the thinnest I’ve ever seen EV on the Top of the World in January.  We all took a look over the ridge,  assessed  it, then we talked about it.  We decided we didn’t want to mess with the loading in the left side of Abe’s, even though other tracks were already in the far skier’s left trees of the run.  We all felt pretty sure it was going to rip, probably at the first rollover that steepened to 35 degrees and had the punchy wind slab(80 plus cms)There are small shelf cliffs that make a great trigger points off the top and this area releases often after storms.

The decision was made to go ski the more sheltered and lower angle East facing run off Joint Point,  the Tele Line. The snow pack was going to be shallower over there due to the East facing sunhit.  It was coated and blank and looked like a better option.

Scooted down the ridge and the corner at Joint point.  Dug a hasty pit. The snow pack was weak of course, but very shallow, 30 cms and had new snow over a condensed crust over 2 mm facets. Better than off the top of Benchmark.  Pulled out the handle of Little Pepe, and offered the drop to Will.    Skipping over the stepdown, snow coated rocks, Will took off down the left side. The snow held with variable boot top to knee fresh on a thin pack.  Luke dropped next, me last.  Regrouped and leapfrogged down the pitch.  Powder??? Dense, wind affected but yes, it counts. Finally, after all this wait. Thank you baby Jesus( I had to work the ten inch day morning)

Made our way down through soft snow on tops of the dead grasses to the aspen cut over, ignoring the now familiar sound of rock grinding edge (my route involved twenty-five yards of ski hiking a new sport)  and picked our way to the bus.  The out is still a pain in the ass.  Nice trip and at the bus we all agreed that we made the best of what was available and headed in to town,  John pulling up at the moment we stepped out of our skis.

Second round I met up with Tom and Stew from Snowell at he Poma shack and with the first run info we all decided to roll back to Tele line.  Had gotten a text on the Visti from J that his group just after us had skied left side Benchmark(Abrahams) and had ripped out a quarter of the bowl to the dirt on a cut.  Eager to see the aftermath,  I hustled ahead to the TOTW and rolled over the edge to see a 100 ft wide eighteen inch to two foot crown starting from the ridge over the Mushroom Rock area, stepping down. It rolled past the flats and through the second cliff band, to the next flats.  Again the interface between knife hard scoured scarp covered and windslab was the culprit, triggered by the weight of a skier at the cliffs.  HS-AS-R2-D2-I (look it up on Google).

Benchmark slide photo (courtesy of Tom Birmingham)
Checking It Out

Second Tele line was just as good as the first. Both Tom and Stew seemed glad to get the first run monkey off their backs for the season.  Again the East face held the snow and no activity and blissfully out of the wind.  Thanks to them for letting me tag along with their group and for the pictures.


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