I’ll add my thanks to Kim’s, for all who joined in to make the Dirtbag Ball such a success. Y’all helped us raise loot that helps keep our Snow Science knowledge current, and our avalanche doggies in top form. It looked like much fun and boisterousness was had by all. Special props go out to the kidz who managed to bust Tecktonik moves to the banjo music! (The Ball had a somewhat "western" theme.) How diverse is that!
We got a few questions on Sunday about our sequence of opening terrain. I thought others might be interested in the answers. The "tiered" opening is something we do on purpose–it’s not the result of bad planning, stingyness, ill-maintained lifts, hung-over patrollers, or any of the other goofy rumors that circulate. Let me explain:
It’s not uncommon for us to stagger the opening of Crystal’s "Most Difficult" (Black Diamond) and "Experts Only" (Double Diamond) terrain. It doesn’t always happen in this exact order, but Sunday we first opened "the frontside": Tree Run, Breakover, Sunnyside, Memorial Forest, Middle Ferk’s, Bull Run & Exterminator. Shortly after that we opened Snorting Elk & Kelly’s Gap areas that also allow access into Right Angle & Left Angle. Bear Pits opened soon after, followed by the High Campbell Chair, followed by Northway, then later in the day, South Backcountry.
Why, you ask?
Sometimes after a big dump of snow, our explosives don’t release the stored "avalanche energy" as much as at other times. An over-simplified explanation is that the airspace between the snowflakes sucks up a bunch of the energy of the explosion and it doesn’t attenuate as much. The snow mostly just stays put or sluffs a little. When that happens, we know that pockets of moveable snow remain.
But it takes something additional to make the moveable snow move.
It could be the additional weight of skiers & boarders traveling out onto a slope. Or it could be the warming created as the day progresses, and invisible wavelengths of Spring sunlight filter through the clouds and fog even though the temperature remains cold and sky stays dark. Or it could be both. Add to THAT, our smaller Spring crowds which fail to cut-up and compact the snowpack (thereby making it more stable) as quickly as happens earlier in the winter when crowds are larger, and you have a recipe for spooky things to happen.
If we open all 2,600 acres at once, the few folks skiing will be spread out all over the place and the consequences of any small snow movement can be amplified by delay in finding, getting to, and helping, anyone who’s having trouble.
On the other hand, we’ve learned that opening sections of terrain in stages, has some advantages:
- Everybody gets an equal chance at "first tracks" as each area opens.
- Each area gets well cut-up and compacted before the next area opens. This promotes stability.
- People are in closer proximity to each other so those having problems are more likely to be witnessed.
- In addition to being witnesses, those in closer proximity can also help wallowers up out of the snow, notify us, find lost equipment, reassure companions who are waiting below, etc.
- We Patrollers can be stationed in a few key locations, moving from "tier" to "tier" as each opens, to keep an eye on things and respond quickly if problems develop.
If you’re not a regular Crystal Mountain skier, or you’re not yet traveling on Advanced terrain, don’t be alarmed! Not all downhill movement of snow is cause for worry. We love our big open bowls and low-angle groomers, but part of what draws a huge number of Crystal’s customers is that the terrain is so varied and angulated with lots of little hidden stashes and pockets of powder. If we tried to blow-up every little bit of snow every morning, we’d NEVER get everything open. Plus we’d spoil a lot of skiers’ & boarders’ fun. So instead we count on our guests to use good ski sense:
- Ski with a partner who you keep in-sight.
- Steer clear of tree wells.
- Spread out from each other and avoid sending snow down onto people below you.
- Obey signs and respect closures.
- As recommended, when you enter "avalanche prone" terrain, travel with a partner, a transceiver, a shovel and a probe
- Don’t stop or stand under avalanche terrain. Look uphill. Are you sure that right under the middle of Powder Bowl and Rockface are the best places to wait for your friends?
- Expert terrain requires expert snow sense–pay attention and keep your eyes and ears open.
Have fun out there and be safe!