Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Patience Young Jedi Knight

"I cannot teach him.  The boy has no patience." - Master Yoda

The time has come to channel your inner Jedi and be patient as the anticipation of the upcoming ski season approaches.

Although Master Yoda trained Jedi Knights for 800 years, I'm not quite that long in the tooth, but I have lived long enough in Utah to recognize that early snow is a blessing and a curse.  It helps us feed our primal urges, but often leads to nasty avalanche problems in subsequent weeks.  Utah Avalanche Center Director Bruce Tremper likes to say that thin snow is weak snow, but an important twist of this phrase is early snow usually becomes weak snow.  

Near the ground, the temperature of the snowpack is nearly always near freezing, but the snow surface can be much colder.  A thin snowpack has a larger temperature gradient than a deep snowpack since the temperature change is concentrated over a smaller distance.  Large temperature gradients favor the development of weak, faceted snow (a.k.a. depth hoar) that is angular, poorly bonded and has a great deal of pore space (e.g., air gaps).  In contrast, small temperature gradients favor the development of strong, rounded, highly bonded snow grains with great density and cohesion.  See for more information.

The bottom line for backcountry skiers and snowboarders is that the best start to a Utah winter involves the rapid accumulation of a deep snowpack so that we don't have to worry about depth hoar. 

This is where your Jedi training is important.  It is very difficult (but not impossible) to accumulate a deep snowpack in October.  Early-mid October storms, in particular, are usually followed by a dry period during which the snowpack rots and facets.  Use the force to ensure that we stay high and dry until late October, and then let the floodgates open.  What we want is a big late October/early November storm cycle to lay down a deep, high-density snowpack that opens up a ton of terrain and precludes the wide-spread development of depth hoar.  

You want to start using the force now.  It's far enough out that we can't read into it too much, but the GFS 180 hour forecast is calling for a major winter storm to move into northern Utah...

then again, maybe you just want your powder fix as soon as possible... 


  1. Jim,

    This is one of your best posts! Enjoyed reading it and learning.


  2. If only my Jedi jonesing could have an impact on when and how much snow is going to fall. When my city friends get mad at me for wanting more snow I have to remind them that the weather doesn't actually care what I want.


    Thanks for the informative post. Let's hope for a thick, stable snowpack this year!