Jeff Ward
Submitted by Jeff Ward on Thu, 02/02/2017 - 14:57

It’s been a while since we have written a Backcountry Conditions Report.  That could mean one of two things.  Either the skiing sucks and we don’t want to talk about it or the skiing has been good and we’ve been too busy skiing to get on the computer.  Fortunately for everyone’s sake the skiing has been good.  Sorry for the lack of communication.

Current Conditions: 

Both Stevens Pass and Washington Pass have enjoyed reasonably stable conditions over the last few weeks with good skiing on North and East aspects at all elevations bands.  The South Facing slopes have picked up a sun crust and the west facing slopes have a fair amount of wind effect. 

Stevens Pass – February 1 and 2 has seen a large wind event that has essentially destroyed the skiing at higher elevations (why I have time to write this report today).  The snow is either stripped down to a crust or has been loaded into sensitive wind slabs.  You can still find good skiing at lower elevations in the trees. 

WA Pass – Wa Pass did see some wind over the last two days but not nearly as much as Stevens Pass.  People are still finding great skiing up Cutthroat and near the Hairpin. 

buried surface hoar near Stevens Pass

Snowpack Observations:

Stevens Pass – Sensitive wind slabs are the primary concern right now.  They are widespread and are present in all of the elevations bands.  We also observed a buried surface hoar layer that formed at the end of January.  This surface hoar layer is not widespread but can be found on east and north aspects in wind sheltered terrain.  The picture above was taken on February 1 on Rock Mountain, east of Stevens Pass.  We found the surface hoar on a wind sheltered east aspect at 5,350’, down 20 cms from the surface.  

Wa Pass – Washington Pass has faired a little better when it comes to the winds, but they have definitely moved snow around in the alpine.  We expect there are sensitive wind slabs at the higher elevations today.  The late January surface hoar layers are less of a concern in this area and the Jan 17 interface has shown significant bonding and we don’t expect any avalanches on this deeper layer during the next storm, but it’s best to keep your terrain choices conservative while the snowpack adjusts to the new load. 

Please be sure to check the avalanche forecast at NWAC.US before you head into the mountains and make your own slope scale avalanche forecast when you are in the field.  

Kirk enjoying the last storm at WA Pass

Skiing Forecast:

A Powder Alert is in effect for the weekend.  A large storm is headed our way and should reach WA Pass and Stevens Pass on Friday.  The deepest day is likely to be Sunday, so if you only have one day to get out this weekend we suggest holding off until the end of the weekend. 

Make sure you are being careful out there this weekend.  It’s been a while since we’ve had a huge dump like this and people might be jonesing for a little snow in the face.  Don’t let that excitement cloud your judgment.  There will be plenty of powder days in the future if you keep things in check.