With the opening of Private Reserve Sunday, and getting Vista Express and Cascade Express lifts running Monday, there is now a lot of attention on Heather Canyon. Prior to last week's storm, Heather was not able to open because there wasn't enough snowpack to build the essential snow bridges, which provides the exit from the Canyon. Well, 9 days and 10 feet of new later, we have enough snow.
But with that storm also came an increased risk of avalanche, particularly when there wasn't much of a base upon which this new snow fell. We won't go into snow dynamics here, but everyone knows the heavy wet snow and 2.5" of rain we received during the storm created slope instability. We just finished a huge storm cycle which left us with weak layers in the snow pack. Our lead groomer was able to get a cat into the Heather run-out to build snow bridges up to "the Narrows" Saturday night - that's why we were able to open Private Reserve Sunday. That terrain is naturally protected from the avalanche danger looming above in Heather, Clark, Super Bowl and higher.
Sunday evening the storm stopped and for the first time in nine days we were able to actually get a visual in the Canyon. During the last several days there was evidence of large slide activity both natural and caused by our avalanche reduction efforts. We had been unable to proceed with bridge building all the way to the lift because of the avalanche exposure until we could get in there and test the stability. This also barred access to the lift for maintenance to get it turning. We put over 300 pounds of explosives in there Monday as part of our avalanche reduction efforts.
The deposit zone from this slide last March reached the bottom of Heather which is why we needed to assess slope stability before placing a snowcat in this area for snow bridge, trail access and ramp building. Read about the 3.30.11 Avalanche.
Last evening Ski Patrol felt that avalanche danger was reduced enough to allow our lead groomer to access the bottom of the Canyon, build the snow bridges and cut the access trail to the lift. The ramps at the lift are almost built, and some lift maintenance was performed, however, those efforts have been interrupted due to rapid warming/loading above. We believe some natural releases will occur due to the increased loading (another warning for extreme avalanche danger has been issued for Mt. Hood today by NOAA.) This is a good thing, as hopefully some of the unstable areas will release naturally. Following the current storm we will continue with the steps necessary to open Heather.
Bottom line - we'll open Heather as soon as possible, but only after we have performed and completed the required steps. We know how popular Heather is, and how important it is to you. But even more important is the safety of our crews and our guests. Thank you for your patience - it will be rewarded with some awesome powder plunges into the steeps of Heather - soon.
P.S. Tighe Stoyanoff from Snow Safety wanted to add that we have been shooting that area every time it snows, and we are throwing shots by hand where we can safely get to throughout this last storm. He sent some pictures of fractures in Absolute Magnitude and Silver Bowl (evidence of large slide activity noted above.) Click any image for a slide show.