Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Blessing, but Hopefully Not a Curse

The last gasp of this week's storm is motoring through the Salt Lake Valley this morning in the form of lake-effect rain and snow showers.

The early season snow is partly a blessing for upper-elevation north-facing terrain where it is likely to linger and serve as base for our next storm.  It could, however, be a curse as well. The Utah Avalanche Center reported the first avalanches of the year yesterday, all triggering on weak, faceted snow left over from the storm earlier in October.  That weak snow probably won't strengthen much the next few days and we now have a thin snowpack on other aspects.  

The ideal situation for a strong snowpack at the beginning of the season is to have it start snowing and not stop until the snowpack is deep enough to prevent the formation of weak, faceted crystals near the ground.  The worst case scenario is to have a thin snowpack linger and weaken, which often happens after storms in October.  This creates plenty of booby traps for Wasatch skiers when it finally starts to snow again.  A prime example of this occurred on November 13, 2011, when there were multiple human-triggered avalanches, including one that killed Jamie Pierre.  

When the snow does start to fly again, be careful and remember that resort terrain needs to be considered backcountry during the early season.  

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