BC Zone Observation Report
Monday, May 12, 2014 at 12:00 AM
Vail & Summit County
Vail & Summit County
Pacific Peak - Northeast Couloir. Tenmile Range
Mayflower Gulch --> Pacific Peak West ridge --> Pacific Peak Summit
Light snow and moderate, variable winds
Approximately 6" of new snow (that had formed into a storm slab) on top of frozen melt/freeze crust. From the top of the couloir, the new snow appeared to be soft and powdery, and not very slabby. The couloir is a northeast aspect with its top elevation at approximately 13,900 feet.
We had an admittedly scary experience on Pacific Peak on Saturday. A friend and I set off with the ambitious goal of skiing the steep northeast couloir on Pacific Peak on Saturday. We both saw the CAIC report on Friday night warning of the impending storm, but after checking NOAA forecasts, we thought that if we got an early start on Saturday, we would beat the bulk of the storm, and may get some really nice turns in the couloir. We checked the snow stake camera at Loveland Ski Area in the morning, and were surprised to see that it snowed 4-5 inches overnight. Nevertheless, we thought that the new snow would be manageable. We started hiking at mayflower gulch around 6:15 AM and made slow progress on the class 3/4 west ridge due to a good amount of post-holing. We got to the top of the line at around 1:30 pm and took notice that there was a significant amount of new snow in the couloir. The new snow seemed powdery, and not very slabby. My personal inexperience with storm slabs led me to believe that we may get some manageable sloughing while skiing, but would not likely get a cohesive slab to break loose. I decided to try and put in a ski cut to see if anything would move, but I wasn't expecting much. Admittedly, I don't have much experience putting in ski cuts, and my ski cut was not executed as well as it could have been. When I entered the ~55 degree slope, a ~6" deep storm slab broke at my feet. I was able to stop myself and watch it slide down the couloir below me. The slide was small, but scary, and it didn't appear to have cleared out potential storm slab dangers below me. It would not have been enough to bury me, but the consequences of getting dragged down that couloir could have been significant. The slide scared us sufficiently to where I stomped out a platform and climbed back up and out of the couloir. We then downclimbed on the ridge until we found a scoured slope on the southwest face of Pacific to ski down safely. I feel that I have learned a lot from this experience, mainly regarding my ignorance regarding the recognition of storm slabs. In the past, my experience skiing winter/storm snow has mostly been on relatively inconsequential slopes. I have mostly skied steep spring lines only during predictable corn cycles. This experience highlights in my head how much I still have to learn.