December backcountry report

 | January 4, 2010

Winter is off to a boomer start this year in B.C., with backcountry skiers enjoying good conditions since the first week of November and most local ski resorts opening earlier than normal. Steady snowfalls from the end of October into the end of November provided an above average November snowpack. This early season snowpack was mostly well bonded with no significant weak layers—a great way to start the season.

Early December has largely been dominated by drier and below average temperatures with intermittent small snowfalls. Backcountry skiers enjoyed good skiing on a strong snowpack with low to moderate avalanche danger. By mid-December most areas were seeing an average snowpack.

The dry, cold period during the first week of December created a weak layer of facets and surface hoar, which overlies a thin humidity crust in some areas of the Southern Monashees. This weak layer was buried by a light snowfall on Dec. 9. Expect a weak layer to form during any dry period during the winter, whether there are warm or cold temperatures.

The winter solstice brought snowfalls more typical of mid-December, with up to 40 cm falling at warm temperatures of -5 to -1. This storm snow formed into a firm dense 50-80 cm thick slab over the Dec. 9 weak faceted layer. Consequently, avalanche danger has increased to considerable with many natural and skier triggered avalanches in steep, open terrain and at convex rollovers at and below treeline. Temperatures cooled rapidly on Dec. 22 with another 5 cm of light powder, giving fast, silky skiing for the Christmas holidays. Keeping in mind the need to avoid avalanche-prone terrain, the Monashees are in great shape for superb peak to valley bottom descents. Enjoy the holidays on the slopes.