December typically provides deep snowfalls in the Monashees. This year seems to be something unique with some areas receiving 17 feet of snow in the first 20 days of December.
Early December storms covered a weak layer of surface hoar crystals that formed at the end of November. This weak layer bonded and settled quickly in most areas by mid-month. Without any clear periods to produce weak layers, steady storm snow generally bonded well, with brief cycles of small avalanches isolated to convex and steep windloaded features.
During these heavy snowfall periods backcountry skiers spun laps in waist-deep and deeper conditions. With storm snow bonding well the greater hazard is currently deep snow—getting stuck headfirst in a creek hole, or tree well can be fatal. Just as many backcountry skiing deaths occur in tree wells as avalanches every year, they just don’t make the news. Keep this in mind inbounds or in the backcountry and stick close to your partner. Telemarkers and snowboarders without releasable bindings need to be extra cautious.
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