There is nothing in the world like going out onto an untouched, open, virgin mountain slope drenched under a thick blanket of new powder snow. It gives a supreme feeling of freedom, mobility. A great sense of flying, moving anywhere in a great white paradise.—Hans Gmoser
Amen…and, lately, there’s been a lot of this! Our winter season was off to a good start with early season snows and we continue to do well in this latest series of storms. Already this year we’ve enjoyed numerous powder days in some of the most secret stashes in the Park and Indian Peaks. As long as the snow keeps falling, you can be sure a posse of us will be religiously laying our fat skis prostrate in whooping worship. Benjamin Franklin once said “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” But I disagree…I think it’s more accurate to swap the word “beer” with “powder skiing.”
Surface hoar forming near treeline last week
More surface hoar from the 17th, great skiing when it's on top...dangerous weak layer once it's buriedWe kicked off our avalanche education season last weekend with a full 3-day course in RMNP, enjoying fresh snow, relatively stable conditions, and good turns. We had an even bigger course this past weekend. It’s encouraging to see so many people taking avalanche education seriously and taking the time to learn how to stay safe and make wise decisions in the backcountry. It’s for good reason…and just in time! Colorado is getting walloped with lots of new snow this weekend with totals being measured in feet (finally). The avalanche danger will be substantial for the coming week, perhaps even more so once the winds pick up and this storm blows out of here. Today in the Park, students witnessed an avalanche in the Dragontail Couloir and had results on numerous test slopes. The snow continues to fall and the inches are adding up. How much? Well it’s at least a foot at this point but there’s more on the way!
The Crypt as of 12/17Ice conditions are somewhat mixed but where the ice is good, it’s in fat. CMS Head Guide Dale Remsberg reports that the Loch Vale ice area is “anemic” and scratchy. But then I got another report that said “Mo’ Flo’ than Go” was fat and fun. It sounds like “Mixed Emotions” is in from this report but much of the ice further to the right remains thin. Dale went on to say that Hidden Falls is fat and forming with the peripheral ice routes still coming into shape. I know another CMS crew was in that area today but I haven’t talked to them yet. I was at Jewel Lake (aka Overflow) ice area on Friday and it was COLD. So cold, in fact, that I snapped a pick in the ice. But the ice was good with a few fun variations to multiple top-ropes available. As has been noted in previous reports, the W. Gully and Stoneman remain in great condition. I was able to see the Crypt the other day and it appears to be in; I’d assume there is ice in the Freezer Burn/Cold Storage areas as well.
All Mixed Up as of 12/17All Mixed Up is thin in the middle but the left and right variations appear to be mostly ice with the probable mixed sections in the 3rd pitch. Another report today indicates that the Squid is in fat. I’d assume that if the Crypt and Squid are in that Jaws may also be climbable but I don’t know of anyone who’s been up there yet this year.
Ice climbing at Jewel LakeOverall this has been another beautiful week in the Park despite strong winds and brutal cold. In fact, I think I’ve enjoyed some of the best weather of the season in the last week or so. All the new snow and growing ice climbs feel very much like a perfect gift, just in time for the holidays.
Steve Johnson teaching an Intro to Mountaineering course this weekendI try to keep this report updated regularly throughout the month but can easily fall behind with back-to-back days in the mountains. If you have questions or observations, please feel free to e-mail me firstname.lastname@example.org. I try my best to respond as quickly as I can. Thanks for reading and stay safe out there!
Andrew Councell is a CMS Guide and year-round Estes Park resident