It’s Friday, there is new snow along with sunshine. What more could you ask for!
Paul Melby was one of us. He was a fellow patroller, a local skier, a friend, and an iconic part of Crystal Mountain. Three years ago today Paul went missing while skiing at Crystal. He fell into a tree well and after the longest search for a snow immersion victim he was found later that year in June.
While we remember Paul this week we also pay our respects to the friends and family of others who have died while doing the sport they love.
For more information about treewell safety and snow immersion suffocation check out this website.
The weather at Crystal is either on or off. There’s no in between up here in the Cascades. And for the past seven days a cold, snowy hose has been pointed straight at us.
Since last Wednesday, we’ve received OVER 7 FEET OF SNOW. Just think about that for a second. If you’re a skier or rider, then you’re probably like me. I have a love affair with snow. I marvel at tiny snow crystals; I’m giddy when I feel snowflakes on my chin; I live to slice through deep powder. But I must remember to check myself when the conditions get like this.
During big storm cycles like this we ski patrollers work hard. We take pride in getting the mountain open on time (or at least as early as we possibly can), and we don’t mind slogging through snow to do avalanche control or carrying a heavy pack laden with explosives or digging out signs buried several feet under the snow. That’s our job. And we’re happy to do it.
But sometimes even our best efforts can’t change the outcome. On Monday the ski area had a power outage when PSE’s backup generator didn’t work. While our main line goes down quite often, it isn’t usually a problem. The generator is large enough to handle all our needs. But here we were on a busy holiday with loads of new snow and a huge crowd of people headed our way, and no way to power the resort. It was a bummer.
But with all this new snow we’ve had more serious hazards than a lack of power. The avalanche cycle has been vigorous. On Monday Kemper’s (an avalanche path outside our boundary) slid naturally. When avalanches occur naturally (without a human trigger) then you know the danger is high or extreme.
Yesterday we brought in a helicopter to drop large explosives in Northway. With conditions like this, it’s too dangerous for patrollers to set out on skis. Instead we use a helicopter to drop 25 pound shots in those hard-to-get pockets. We saw widespread results. Northway Bowl produced a large avalanche with a 4-5 foot crown. Niagra’s (sic) slid wall-to-wall. We saw evidence of natural avalanches throughout Northway.
Most tragically, the treewell danger is also extremely high. All this snow creates airy voids at the base of alpine firs, creating dangerous traps. Yesterday one skier at Crystal (near Dick’s Face below Neanderthal Rocks) slid head first into a treewell and died. Even though he was skiing with a partner, and the two had skied together for years, just a few minutes in a treewell was enough to cause suffocation. For these two men, their day started with enthusiasm and thrills. It ended in tragedy. Our deepest condolences go out to the family.
If you plan to come up to the Cascades and enjoy this storm cycle, remember these hazards. These are part of the inherent risk in the sport.
This isn’t Disneyland. While the thrill of new snow entices us all, we also need to pay attention. These hazards deserve our respect.
The forecast is just calling for more snow. Saturday there will be a short lull in the action, with more storms rolling in next week.
Let’s all be safe out there and return to ski/ride another day.
Today the mountain never opened, and no one is more bummed than we are. The power was out today. Crews are working on it and we hope to be up and running tomorrow. Check the website and crystal’s Facebook page for the latest.
Some of you might be tempted to hike into the backcountry. Please don’t. The avi danger is high. This afternoon Kemper’s (which is just outside of our boundary) avalanched naturally, and the crown looks to be 4-6 feet deep. This is the load we’ve been worried about. So let’s all hope that Crystal can run tomorrow so you can enjoy this snow inbounds. Thanks for your patience. Mother Nature is definitely calling the shots here. Oh. And one more thing. It’s currently snowing hard.
Are you a dirtbag? I mean this in the kindest way possible. In fact, here at Crystal, we value dirtbags so much that we put on an annual party to celebrate them. In our world, a dirtbag is a true ski (or snowboard) bum. Dirtbags sacrifice everyday amenities for their sport. They forgo regular showers, comfortable housing and even committed relationships all in pursuit of the pure joy found on the slopes. And for that, we want to honor you Ski Bum. Because without guys and gals like you, skiing and snowboarding wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.
Crystal Mountain’s Dirtbag Ball is still a month and a half away. But it’s never too early to start buttering up the patrol (I mean, ahem, starting your strategic campaign strategy). Ski Patrollers and former royalty will choose the new King and Queen. Winners will be announced at the Ball.
This year’s DBB will be held March 29th. Tickets go on sale March 8th. The theme this year is Hunters and Gatherers. Reserve tickets now by emailing Lisa Poncelet (lisamponcelet(at)gmail.com). And may the biggest dirtbags win!
She’s back. Winter that is. The past few days at Crystal have been quite cold. While we haven’t yet been pounded by mounds of fresh snow, the snow from last weekend is still cold, dry and fluffy. And, it’s about to get a whole lot more wintery.
First, let’s look at the current weather. Temperatures are minus Fahrenheit and the wind is coming from the east. Since Crystal mainly runs along a ridge oriented north and south, east winds rake up the slopes and blow hard across the top ridges. East winds are generally cold and miserable. If you’ve ever traversed across the top of Green Valley with a brutal wind on your right cheek, that’s east wind. Usually we get these winds during periods of high pressure, when cold air trapped on the east side of the Cascades leaks over the passes into the west, finding its way over places like Crystal.
Take yesterday for example. The above chart, courtesy of NWS, shows that winds in the 35 mph range can significantly impact temperature. At the top of the High Campbell chairlift yesterday, we measured the air temperature at -11 F. Add in the windchill and it feels like -41.
According to the chart, bare skin will suffer frostbite in ten minutes. I can attest to that. While trying to stay warm up there, a fellow patroller and I hiked the ridge to try to raise our body temperature. During the hike, my neck gator slipped down and a sliver of skin was exposed to the full brunt of the east wind. After less than five minutes I felt a sting on my cheek, which turned out to be frost nip.
Today the winds are even stronger and the temperatures are starting out even lower. While the Crystal telemetry is advertising spikes into the 100s mph, human observations aren’t validating that. But even a steady 30 mph is going to feel like -35 F. So bundle up. Keep moving and make sure that neck gator doesn’t slip down.
As for the weather forecast, the temperatures should moderate over the weekend. We might pick up a little bit of snow, but not much. A more normal winter weather pattern should set up next week, with Tuesday and Thursday bringing cold precipitation our way.
It also looks like Tahoe should finally get some snow. And as stingy as our snowfall has been this season in the PNW, those guys down there need it even more than we do.
Temps are low and the air
is dry, and that makes for good skiing. The forecast is calling for a little more snow this weekend and a lot more next week. Bring it on!
Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol is continuing our Avalanche Skills Workshops this weekend. The purpose of these workshops is to provide an opportunity for you to work with patrol on basic snow safety skills.
Phase 1, which focused on beacon skills, is over. But if you missed Phase 1, that’s okay. It’s not a pre-requisite for this weekend’s workshop.
Phase 2 starts this weekend and there will be two more sessions February 15th and 16th. The focus this weekend will be on strategic shoveling and probing. Everyone is welcome. Meet at 11am at the Easy Searcher Beacon Training Area next to Campbell Basin Lodge.
The workshop lasts about an hour. This is a great opportunity to learn more about avalanche safety and rescue skills. See the complete schedule of the workshops below.
Here’s another picture of the girls getting their goggle tans on last weekend. This weekend should have some sun breaks as well, but with colder winter-like temps, and of course recent NEW SNOW! softening up the surface over harder underlayers. It’s white, it’s slippery, and there’s a lot more of it than there was a week ago. Come up and join us!
Check out these Jackson Hole Avalanche Dogs at work. If everyone loved their job as much as these lucky dogs, this world would be a much happier place.