Thursday, March 16, 2017

Day 99 graupel to the rescue

Before we start lets make clear what is meant by "graupel" often incorrectly referred to as grapple. Graupel is a soft form of ice balls that falls when the temp is zero or slightly above and can sometimes be quite large - up to 1 cm across. The advantage of graupel is that it can accumulate very quickly indeed (as it did today) and because of the high moisture content it quickly forms a cushion between the skis and  an icy under surface as it also did today. The downside is that it is relatively hard compared with snow and can really sting the face if you try and ski through a fall at speed.

It was + 2 on the way to the hill and also +2 as we drove away tonight. temps may have risen a little at the base during the day but for the most part this was the lower hill temp all day. I noticed that at the White Pass load it was zero all day so maybe a little colder at the top. Conditions were overcast with a poor viz line which worked it's way down from White Pass top to the Idiot Traverse by mid afternoon before rising again to the top by the close.

Overnight they called 5 cms of fresh which seemed a bit generous to me but what was there was being blown around in a strong wind particularly in the morning. The effect of the skiing surface was that for the top half of White Pass we had dust on crust while lower down the under surface softened and tended to blend in more with the new snow. The big feature of the day was graupel showers which continued off and on (more on than off) all day and created a significant accumulation of graupel (I would estimate at least 5 cms) which obliterated tracks and gave a supportive top skiing surface. For a short time around mid day the precip did turn to snow (wet at the base) but for most of the time it was graupel which was giving very good, soft, untracked skiing conditions.

We went to the New Side and found even more closed than yesterday. Around 9 this morning there was a huge slide out of Hells Gate which brought down trees and spread all the way across Falling Star - unsurprisingly this area was closed all day. It's easier to say what was open than what was closed. We had the White Pass core and the Idiot Traverse open to just before Surprise Trees and that was it. We looped around Gun Bowl, Pillow Talk, the Silver Lining sign line and all bits in between but in truth it was very limited. The skiing was actually pretty good with the graupel giving good soft coverage and in places untracked lines.

I decided that the Old Side would be a better bet because as it was lower the under surface would be softer. My reasoning was good but what I failed to allow for was that the Old Side had even less open than the New. Put simply we had Bear and North Ridge with all other areas (including those in between like Linda's and Boom Ridge) closed. We went for an early lunch to replan the day.

In the afternoon we went back up the New Side and ran loops from White Pass top through the Gun Bowl, taking the Idiot Traverse as far as we were allowed and then dropping either Black Cloud or Lower Surprise and exiting off Summer Road on that little pitch under Timber Chair. This was pretty nice skiing on the new snow and the soft surfaces lower down. We then tried the lower two pitches of Triple Trees off Summer Road and they were just fantastic. The runs were untracked (or at least filled in by the graupel) and skiing like a dream. That was it for the rest of the afternoon where we kept putting down fresh tracks in lines we knew we had skied before - sensational.

While sitting in the Griz Bar the snow continued to fall outside and if things stay cold as they are forecast to do (-5 over night) we could actually have a pretty good day tomorrow. Today was a good example of just how quickly the hill can repair itself after a cruddy day like yesterday.

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