Tuesday I made the most of the sunny afternoon to shoot up to the top of Benchmark,poke around and see what?s going on back in EV. Skinning out from Two Elk?s, it?s pretty obvious we are no where near the much needed snow pack to get things rolling in the back bowls. I love the sunshine, but seeing a brown-out on all the south facers that were caked deep only twelve months prior is a bit of a downer. Guess the snow is only hanging in the shade and baking in the sun. The slopes are littered with surface hoar, caused by the clear night?s frost and the sunshine baking bonds into weak facets.

Storms like this past Saturday?s is a little more what we could use three times a week for the rest of the month, but let?s face it, what?s here is now? and now we have a pretty weak snow pack.  Studying the avy roses of the CAIC, the weakest areas should lie on the east facing slopes in the Vail-Summit Zone. Contrary to common sense, that?s exactly where I dropped in on a nicely shaded 38 degree slope north-east of Tweeners.

There I harnessed up and tied in with the glacier line around a stout tree. Hopefully that would be a last resort preventative from crack, pop, pin-ball ride through trees and a push off a cliff. I dug a pit in the sweet spot of a likely starting zone after a careful trip down amongst sloughing loose snow and a little cracking of the top layer. There weren?t any cracks propagating off into the distance, but they were enough to be wary of.

Got in, dug the ?pit? and started to gather some data. There are basically three layers to this shallow 70cm ?snow pack?. The bottom 30cm is basically larger facets slightly bonded resting on depth hoar. The next 30-55/60cm are comprised of faceted loose grains and the very top layer 55-70cm is the last storm accumulation. The exposed snow is already riddled with surface hoar. Doesn?t look too great for the future, but some avi cycles are likely to occur with a big snow and flush the zone free of those pesky white dragons.

An isolated column test resulted in the top 58-70cm layer popping after four fingertip shots at the wrist. Not too surprising, while the break was not a completely shear. Four shots from the elbow broke off the 30-58cm range, again a not such clean break. Under the right conditions, I?m sensing a collapse in these layers after a good snowfall loads

their weaknesses.

For the real snow geeks out there (myself included), I measured the temps of the pack to see if there were any major gradients. Chose to use 20cm increments to measure within the noticeable layers and came up with 0 deg. Celsius at 10cm, -1.7 at 30cm, -3.4 at 50cm and -6 at 70cm. Towards the bottom 10-30cm that?s 8.5 deg/m, 17 deg/m in the middle

and 13 deg/m at the top. The numbers below 30cm represent a weak temp gradient (<10 deg. C/m), which strengthens at a rate that increases with the temp and depends on snow grain size. The rest of the snow pack has a strong temp gradient (<10 deg. C/m), and results in a loss of strength as facet formation occurs. Math aside, we have plenty of

weak snow to make things a bit sketchy.

Cautiously negotiating my away from terrain traps and cliff bands, I finally skied my way to the lower aspect of tweeners and made some really fun turns. Crossing the creek and sticking skier?s right, I rode through the deeper shaded snow amongst the short pines until the waterfall. The ride was sugary and mellow. After the falls, the traverse left into the woods and the scarcely packed ski trail is pretty sketchy. We definitely need some serious snow in those woods to make the ride back to the bus a little less shady. The last bit of the trail is packed down by some snowmobiles and make the last portion along the water tower a welcoming slide home.

Not bad for my first ?benchmark to water tower? trip of the year. Grand from afar, far from grand. It will be interesting to see how the snow pack in the zone evolves and how conditions will change as our season trudges on. Glad I was able to take the afternoon for some recon and gauge conditions until the next storm. Until then, keep it safe and pray for more snow!