Out and About in a thin, shady snowpack

20151127_121123There’s no way to say it nicely – this winter kinda sucks. Its the worst I’ve seen since moving here about twenty years ago, and I’ve seen a few bad ones before – but nothing like this.

At the moment, the snowpack is extremely thin – many places have less than a meter of snow on the ground, and seeing bare spots at 2500 meters is not unusual. Worse than this though, is the combination of the thin snowpack and a weak depth-hoar layer. Although improving due to stable temperatures and additional snowfall, the snowpack has spent most of the last three weeks plus at a level three on the avalanche warning scale – and if I’m honest, I think it would have been a four if there had been enough snow to cause damage to buildings.

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A lot of people forget that that warning scale not only attempts to estimate the likelihood of avalanches – it also factorizes the potential damage those avalanches can cause. This commonly becomes difficult to evaluate for winter sports folks right around the break between level three and level four. The last few weeks, we’ve seen many days where the likelihood of a slide is close to a level three/four – but there was so little snow that the scale did not justify going to a higher danger level.


Of course – this only matters if you are a highway maintenance manager or a forestry agent. These people care about the size of avalanches – small ones are no big deal for them, but big ones can take out their crop of lumber, or potentially tear out a bridge or similar. If you are a skier – every avalanche is deadly – so the damage estimates don’t really matter so much.

Every year it seems we have at least a couple of days which straddle this difficult to judge line. Patrick Nairz over at the Avalanche Warning Service Tirol has taken to calling them “critical level threes” – which I think is a good idea. I also bet that if we see changes in the whole system in the next decades – you’re going to see changes right in this area.

So the end of the story is that I’ve been picking around the hills and sticking to safe slopes under twenty-five degrees and being really careful about the old twenty-four hour rule. As far as ski-touring blogs go, its pretty boring stuff.

Worse still – I think we’re in for more of this. We’re well into the season now – and even if we get a big dump or two of snow, we’re not likely to ever reach anything near a normal snowpack. That depth hoar layer is not going away, I think, until we begin to have consistent springtime temperatures and the snow goes isothermic – but of course when that happens, it’ll be melting, and there’s just not that much there to melt. I expect to have to tip-toe around the mountains all winter now – followed by a pretty short spring skiing season. Its not a year for big goals.

I’ve been getting some time in with the kiddos in the resort though…..this could be the coolest stoke EVA!

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And I bushwacked with Anonymous John.


hes very sensitive about this

Tobi was out to tag rocks on the Lampsenspitze…..04-02-2016 - 1

and I even went touring with my oldest for the first time up a forest road!

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There is some good fun to be had when the sun is out and you’ve got a spot with no worrisome inclines. I’ve had a good time despite everything hitting a few unspectacular lines I’ve watched from the road for years. I hope others will slowly take the hint too. Every time it snows there are people getting buried. The snowpack has a long memory – things that happened in November are still relevant….even if you can barely remember it.

Let’s see what we can make out of it!


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