Dear Gunnison Valley Skiers and Riders,
I just wanted to reach out to you all as we approach the end of what has truly been a season to remember. Nearly 25’ of snow to date and open wall to wall, top to bottom for the first time since putting Teo II in the mix a few years ago. As we roll into the spring season, I wanted to help inform you of some of the challenges that the patrol faces with managing terrain on the mountain and dispel any unfounded rumors out there.
As evidenced by the rapidly diminishing snowbanks in town and the re-emergence of long buried bikes/ cars/ kids toys etc., it has been unseasonably warm the last couple of weeks. The daily avalanche discussion on the CBAC website has been focused on the problems associated with warming temperatures and minimal overnight freezes in the backcountry. The ski area is subject to the same problems, only on a much different scale. Many of the “extreme” areas on the mountain contain multiple zones with eastern or western exposures that are susceptible to rapidly warming air and snow temperatures as the sun gets stronger every day. Couple this with overnight temperatures barely at or even above freezing (36* low temperature Sunday morning at our weather station) and you have a perfect recipe for wet snow avalanches. For graphic evidence of what these type of wet slide events are capable of, check out the recent slide on Gibsons Ridge. What started as a small piece of snow falling from the cornice grew to a large area of debris at the bottom of the slope, probably the consistency of wet concrete when it initially slid and now fully set up.
Wet snow avalanches are notoriously unpredictable and generally unresponsive to explosive triggers, usually requiring a falling piece of snow or an unsuspecting skier to venture onto the slope and have the snowpack collapse around them. The patrol’s challenge is to monitor the slopes for temperature and structure and to make the call to close an area before the snowpack loses its’ ability to support the weight of a skier, and allow our guests to safely ride out of any of the terrain. Then patrol needs to sweep the zone. Unfortunately this requires us to close entire areas due to one or two potential unsafe areas (Banana/ Funnel due to Tropicana and Total Recall sections, as an example). To ensure the safety of our guests and patrollers, we need to be cautious and proactive in our assessments, and risking this is not an option. The unpredictability of these type of avalanches make it impractical to try to rope off trouble spots, as these slides can run surprisingly long distances, entrain large amounts of snow, and become extremely destructive. The long-range forecasts are calling for a return to more winter-like conditions to end the season. If that holds true, then hopefully we will be able to return to more normal operations. The next challenge will be to determine if people can safely get into or out of areas that have melted out. Please bear with us as we deal with a truly dynamic situation. We will try to be timely with updating signage, status boards and the website with the most current information, but conditions can change dramatically in a short period and it often takes a bit of time to post updates. We appreciate your patience and understanding.
Thanks to all who have supported the patrol’s efforts this season. It has been a lot of long hours, running miles of rope, digging out buried signs and pads, and throwing thousands of pounds of explosives to get to this point. We hope everyone was able to experience that one run or storm that they will remember for a long time to come. Please respect all of our ropes and signs and understand that the safety of all is our number one concern. Enjoy the last couple of weeks, be respectful of others on the hill, and finish strong. The snow will melt, trails will open, and the rivers will run.
See you out there,
Director of Crested Butte Ski Patrol