Whitehorn II

As snow stability and coverage continue to improve in Whitehorn II, the Avalanche Control has decided the time is right to open it all up, side to side, top to bottom. Up to now, just A Gully has been open, but it is treated as a part of the Rodney’s Ridge area, and has no bearing on whether the rest of the gullies open or close. Crews were happy with the way things had set up in the rest of the gullies, and just a little more work was required this week before the gates were cracked for the first time this year.

One significant difference in opening this terrain this year over previous seasons is that the entire Whitehorn II area will open together, rather than one or a few gullies opening at a time as crews move across. This is mainly due to the fact that stability has improved to the point that crews have been able to move quickly and cover a lot more ground than usual, rather than picking their way through every piece of micro-terrain in each gully (there’s a lot of them!). These little areas still need attention, but when snow is sticking to the slope despite the efforts of the control teams to make it avalanche with explosives and ski cuts, confidence in snowpack stability increases as does the ability of the teams to move quickly through the terrain.

One of the greatest tools available to control teams for slope stabilization is skier compaction. Until an avalanche area opens to the public, this compaction is achieved by Ski Patrol and Trail Crew members skiing the slopes. While it could be argued that opening the run to the public would allow compaction to happen much more quickly and thoroughly, we still need to tightly control who goes into these areas and where exactly they go. The Avalanche Forecaster communicates where he wants compaction to happen, and staff are in constant touch with him and each other by radio so the highest level of safety is maintained.

One benefit of opening all remaining gullies together is that crews do not need to place the fence lines that are usually used to separate open areas from closed. This is time-consuming work, and not having to do it in this case allows the terrain to open days sooner than it otherwise would have. There will still be a fence placed between G and H Gullies as in previous years, however, since they have a more easterly component to their aspects, and therefore have greater potential to be affected by the warm spring sun and may need to be closed while the rest of Whitehorn II can remain open.

I took a lap through B Gully on Monday, and even through the choke of the gully conditions were fantastic, and only got better down on the fan below (the ‘fan’ is the area where avalanching snow will spread out and slow down after it passes through the narrow choke). The underlying snowpack was nicely supportive, and the soft boot-deep snow on top was literally the icing on the cake!

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