Observations – February 20, 2013

A respected observer reveled in the beautiful President’s Day weather skiing 3 Bowls and Lynx in good deep powder.  His party did not venture into the steepest terrain in the area and enjoyed great conditions on the mellower slopes without incident.  He reported a north wind picking up in the afternoon, likely adding a bit of wind-loading to lee slopes.

We went back for a quick evening look at the South Fork region Wednesday, more specifically to check up on the Lynx, 3 Bowls, and Harp areas.

The most recent storms have helped these areas dramatically.  While North Bowl has been ski-able for some time, the rest of the gullies as well as some of the more open slopes and bowls in this region are now adequately filled in.

We made a quick rally to the top of Harp and were able to drop in from just below the summit.  There are some lightly covered rocks that we snagged in the uppermost couple hundred feet, but below this the snow cover was deeper and more consistent – especially in the more deeply filled gully features.  The snow is soft, but heavier and higher density.  It sluffed in the steepest sections near the summit.  We noted no red flags of instability, no recent avalanche activity, and watched other parties in addition to ourselves ski the Harp area without incident.

Based on this quick glance at conditions and hasty stability assessment, caution is advised in the steepest terrain in this region – especially on lee slopes where recent loading is evident (slopes with a corniced/wind-lipped ridge above).  As mentioned, the softer new snow is heavy and moist.  It rests on a thin, weak base.  With any new snow or wind-loading, stability will be affected accordingly.  No big snow deposits or wind events are currently forecast for the next few days, however mountain conditions vary dramatically from weather forecasts for the lower elevations.  Additionally, weather data for the South Fork region is severely limited due to lack of mountain weather stations.

Please continue to approach the region with caution.  Several historic avalanche accidents have occurred in the vicinity, numerous terrain traps exist, and stability can vary significantly according to aspect.  Looking for clues to instability, rather than clues suggesting stability and supporting your objective, is the best framework for staying safe.