Kelci Barnes is our Ski Patrol Assistant Manager and wrote this on behalf of our patrol. It will help you understand the efforts that have been made to open gated access terrain, and the inherent dangers that you will find once the terrain is open. Please give it a careful read and as Kelci recommends, if considering entering the terrain once it is open, ski with a buddy, an avalanche transceiver, a probe and a shovel.
This season went from zero to 60 in no time flat. Ski patrol went from not being able to stick bamboo a few days prior to opening, because the snow pack was too shallow to nearly 160 inches of snowfall in about three weeks. For a resort that averages in the low to mid 400" range for the season, we are off to an unusual start. Compounding our unusual start, we have had an excellent warm base laid down first, followed by a cold and very low density storm that lasted for nearly a week. Being on the side of a volcano during the winter is a dynamic environment and our avalanche problems have been changing accordingly, everyday offering us something slightly different. I think many guests are aware that the creek running along the runout must have snow bridges pushed in, allowing for rescue before we can open gated terrain; what you might not know, is that we can't allow cat drivers to push those bridges until we are reasonably certain they won't be buried in an avalanche coming from above our resort and traveling for miles.
The "toe" of a Clark Canyon avalanche which ran to the bottom of Jacks Woods, December 23, 2021
On Thursday 12/23, we believe just such an avalanche occurred, based on seismic activity recorded near our resort and running through Clark Canyon, ending in a fairly massive debris pile at the bottom of Jack's Woods.
On Friday 12/24, Ski Patrol began routes in the Private Reserve, and found widespread avalanches with deep, unconsolidated snow. We continued throwing explosives for the next five days while Mother Nature erased our efforts with more snowfall every night.
Patrol throws 2-pound hand charges from above Gods Wall.
Related Story - April 10, 2019 Avalanche
Once we were confident in accessing the terrain ourselves, we found no settlement of the new, cold snow, meaning boot penetration (taking off your skis and stepping into snow) was about chest high. We were still concerned about the many small pockets of avalanche terrain within the reserve and also concerned about SIS or Snow Immersion Suffocation, for ourselves and our guests and the decision was made to wait to allow the new snow to settle before opening.
"Even with all of this prep work the Private Reserve is still an avalanche area and it is strongly recommended that you ski with all of the following: a buddy, an avalanche transceiver, a probe and a shovel once we do open which should be this week."
-- Kelci Barnes, Assistant Manager Meadows Ski Patrol
Essentially, the Private Reserve was a 'no fall zone' - if your skis weren't under you, it could be fatal. Along with explosives being thrown in our bigger avalanche paths, we have also been attempting to compact the terrain and ski cut (trigger avalanches with our bodies) the smaller paths within the reserve. Even with all of this prep work, the Private Reserve is still an avalanche area and it is strongly recommended that you ski with all of the following: a buddy, an avalanche transceiver, a probe and a shovel once we do open, which should be this week.
The bottom terminal of Heather
Heather Canyon is the next step after the Reserve. Before we open Heather Canyon, we need to fire our Howitzer to mitigate the avalanche hazard up high, we need to throw explosives on our bigger slide paths, the bridges to the Heather lift have to be built, and the lift has to be dug out, as it is currently under the snow.
We know everyone is salivating to get in some gated terrain laps and we are working to get stuff open as soon as we can. I hope that, in the meantime, the freshies within the ropelines have been satisfying that powder hunger. It's been a great Holiday gift from Mother Nature and I thank you for your patience as we make our list and check it twice.
Zeb Yaclich in Elk Bowl last season. Grant Myrdal Photo.