As we move into the meat of the Holiday Season, waves of snow are starting to add up to a thicker snowpack. From November 25th to December 2 the Colorado Avalanche Information Center recorded 186 avalanches, by happy chance without any fatal skier-triggered events. Unstable conditions have far from disappeared, unfortunately, as Michelle Lindsay from Fort Collins lost her life in an avalanche this past Sunday on the popular Diamond Peak area of Cameron Pass, just to the north of us. It is fair to say that the snowpack is a little spooky out there right now. Caution should be exercised whenever near or below slopes of a 35 degree pitch or more and in known avalanche paths and run-outs. 

The last couple of storms that have graced the upper Colorado and Fraser River basins have come in relatively warm and therefore heavy. The weight of new layers has been placed gently on top of a pretty thick layer of unconsolidated snow that becomes more sugary every day. With what is now a mid-layer of somewhat tenuous support, having been affected more by warmth and wind, we have a denser but weakly-bonded snow above an unstable collapsing foundation that adds up to a mess. Pole baskets, unless oversized specifically for powder, sink all too easily through the slightly denser middle layer and find ground with regularity if more than a moderate amount of pressure is applied to them. Even wider skis when taken off-trail, likewise go from being somewhat supported, to collapsing down into the depths with a sudden sinking feeling. This is especially true near large rocks which are still radiating some of the previous season’s heat.

Creek-beds remain partially open and continue to gurgle more frequently along their course and loudly than in the depths of winter, when a thick and soft snowpack muffles the sound, and when the frigid air has solidified most of the aqueous matter into temporary quietude. Snow bridges remain unreliable, in part due to lack of a deep freeze, and in part because of the dramatically unstable snow. Choose carefully if your travels bid you cross a creek. It will take some time in the deep freeze or a major change in the snowpack before the creeks become a dependable and stable route for transportation this season. 

Trails which had widened over the longer dry periods with no new snow, have again become narrow, as the small to moderate accumulations from passing storms have billowed the snow up around the main packed track. Single-file snowshoe tracks provide a relatively solid platform in areas visited this past week. 

With Mid-December soon upon us. we expect that the forestry project on Vasquez Creek above the winter closure will conclude soon and concede this route to over-the-snow users. There has been little evidence of grooming yet on the Fraser River trail or in Grand Park. Several construction projects, Roam, Rendezvous and another at the North end of Grand Park have usurped the land where winter trails have previously been established. While there have been assurances made that new routes are being created there does not appear to be much happening on the ground yet. Grooming on the Fraser to Granby trail, as it runs from the Fraser Ball fields, past Tabernash and up Red Dirt Hill to snake under Highway 40 and on to Granby Ranch has been groomed whenever the snow has been deep enough. Patience should provide us with the re-establishment of the winter connection from Winter Park Resort all the way to Granby Ranch, hopefully with a bit more presence and permanence.

Happy trails!