I awoke today to a gloriously clear, chilly fall morning. The October sun is rising bright over the Uintas. It’s been a few days since we’ve seen the sun as a slow moving, winter-type pacific storm had parked itself over us. As I’m sure most folks are aware, we’ve picked up a bunch of snow; over a foot at higher elevations including the upper reaches of Park City Mountain Resort.
There’s no doubt this early storm has brought much excitement for both us at the resort and locals. I also must admit, perhaps a little dismay. Last “winter” only ended a few months ago, as it was snowing in Park City well into June. The summer and fall since then have just been perfect.
In the Snow Safety Department we often take a different look at early storms. Understand that snow never just sits there waiting for more snow; it is constantly changing. Snow nerds (or S’nerds like myself) call it metamorphosis. Lying on top of the warm ground under the clear cold nights the snow crystals will ‘rot,’ changing from flakes into sugary facets. When these facets are buried they will become depth hoar, our first weak layer in the snowpack for this season. It may not be a big deal now, but it could be a player in December when we get bigger storms and we’re trying to open upper mountain terrain. The snowpack could fail on those October facets and avalanche ‘down to the dirt’ as we say. One other nagging little thing we think about, early season depth hoar can lead to catastrophic wet slab avalanches in the spring.
Now another thing to understand is that there are very few absolutes in this job. It could keep snowing, which would bury and insulate this first snow and keep it from faceting. Or alternatively, all this snow could melt and the bigger storms we expect over the next couple months would fall on bare (and colder) ground. While this will likely happen in our lower elevation sunny slopes, chances are the snow in the shady upper mountain zones is here to stay. As we do every season, we’ll just work with whatever the winter brings to the best of our abilities.
If this s’nerd talk has you wanting more, there is a great opportunity next month. The Friends of the Utah Avalanche Center will be hosing the annual Utah Snow and Avalanche Workshop (USAW 2011) on November 5th at the Depot in Salt Lake. There is a morning session for “industry professionals” and an afternoon session open to the public. More information is available at the UAC website http://utahavalanchecenter.org/. The admission fee includes tickets for gear raffles, refreshments, and a post-workshop social event. Every year we have a pretty good turnout of PCMR employees and locals; would love to see you there!
Originally from the Pocono’s of Pennsylvania, Travis found his way to Park City three years ago and is now our grooming manager. When not in snowcat you can find him skiing or snowmobiling in the Utah backcountry or enjoying the skiing here at Park City Mountain Resort.