Blog Crystal Ski Patrol Crystal Mountain Washington

Avalanches, Treewells and Deep Snow

Posted in Conditions, Weather

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.

Skiing the deep below Shaker’s Left

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.

Natural Avalanche in Kemper’s Slidepath

Explosive-triggered Avalanche in Eagle’s Chute at Crystal

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.

Be extra careful around trees

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.

 
 
  • Ben

    I don’t see Dick’s Face or Neanderthal Rocks on the trail map. Where abouts are those areas?

    • Corey

      Hey Ben,
      So “Berrypatch” is the broad open area below the Rockface Permanently Closed Area. Dick’s & Neanderthal are in-between Exterminator and Berry Patch. Neanderthal is the small horizontal rock/cliff band that’s climber’s far right as you ride up the Gondola. Dick’s is the slightly steeper, narrow face that starts a little farther down the ridge and empties out onto Kelly’s Gap Road. If you traversed hard (skier’s) left from Dick’s, you’d fall off the cornice into the forest above Berry Patch–but I wouldn’t recommend that.
      There should be a whole list of informal place names elsewhere on this Blog, under the “Place Names” category. They’re all referenced from formal names on the Trail Map.