Snow is finally starting to make a timid appearance in the PNW. A few of us got out December 1 and December 8 to check out conditions. Here’s a brief report from both outings.
With the moody weather forecast and a low tide base, we settled for the backcountry around Crystal Mountain. We skinned into Silver Basin area, staying generally closer to Three-Way Peak. Over the previous few days, there were fairly strong winds that swept a lot of the snow away towards the north east facing aspects. A lot of the higher elevation ridges are looking rather bare at the moment.
Conditions exceeded our expectations. We skied low angle, treed terrain. The coverage was overall better when anticipated with about 2 feet on the ground, not enough to cover rocks and bushes, but enough to have fun; the snow was light and fluffy. The ground, unfortunately, is still not light or fluffy, and wasn’t very far beneath the snow.
The highlight of the weekend was taking our “Totally Foamular” camper on its maiden snow voyage. The skiing wasn’t as exhilarating as we wanted it to be, but the french fry nacho creation we made on the camper stove sure was. We continue to fine tune our camper adventure rig, we will share more stories soon.
December 8, Louie and I ventured over to Heliotrope Ridge on Mount Baker. It was a clear, stellar day, so no surprise that about 40 other people thought it was a good idea as well.
We were able to drive and park at trailhead without any shenanigans. Microspikes were helpful on the last part of our hike in. Louie was rocking what we decided was the best PNW approach footwear ever: Xtratufs with microspikes.
We started skinning at about 5000. A few inches of fresh snow fell the night before, covering the crust that formed on the older snow, making for enjoyable skiing. There were open crevasses and glacier ice lying around; a good reminder that hazards still exist and it is very much early season.
Mount Baker was looking spectacular. I can’t remember the last time I experienced visibility that good on Heliotrope ridge in December.
This slowly forming, thin snowpack is atypical for the PNW, unless there’s a good rain event (not unlikely around here). There may be spicy persistent weak layers buried at the bottom of the snowpack given the patchy start. With Colorado already reporting multiple human triggered avalanches and even some burials, we are being careful not to forget that if there is snow to ski, there is snow to slide. Don’t let the early season conditions fool you.
We sure need another two-three feet to fill in a decent base. Make sure to keep doing those snow dances please!
WildSnow Girl, Julia Dubinina, is a weekend warrior chasing snow in winter and sun in summer. A lover of long tours and steep skin tracks, she explores the Pacific Northwest and beyond. When she is not out adventuring, she is working away at her corporate desk job for a software company to make her next adventure happen.