Merry Christmas and Happy New Years from Mt Hoods’ backcountry! As you know, we have had a very slow start, in what we were hoping to be an “El Nino” season. Thankfully, Mother Nature granted almost 3’ of powder for the holiday! We can only hope that the trend of snow will continue through “Juneuary.”
On Christmas Eve, I toured out to White River Canyon to evaluate the storm that would eventually deliver our Christmas present of champagne powder. During the pineapple express, the shallow base consisted of multiple layers of ice crusts with high water content snow between.
The most recent storm from December 27-29th, arrived with moderate to high winds on the south side of Mt Hood, loading our east facing slopes with an average depth of 5 ½ feet. This last storm produced 92 cm or 3 feet of magical 6%-9% density snow. This storm snow is sitting on the supportive ice crust layer going down to the ground. High pressure built immediately following the storm and caused very strong E-NE winds late on the 29th until the end of the year. The strong east winds have redistributed the storm snow back on to the westerly facing slopes.
I ventured out to Peagravel ridge on December 29th, wind effected snow slabs where easily broken off while skinning along the ridge tops. Skiing on the east slope of Peagravel was great, with light, effortless powder leaving you with enough energy to make multiple laps. As you look across the canyon at Gnarl Ridge, there were multiple loose-dry avalanches visible under the cliff band and open chutes. These were visible all the way up to the canyon’s origin at approximately 8000’.
When it was finally time to make it back down to the west facing slopes, Heather Creek was in full force. Mt Hood Meadows staff has not yet built up the Heather Cat Track, forcing the use of the ridgeline back to the Hood River Meadows parking lot. Don’t make the mistake of dropping in high up on the canyon, as it will require you to cross the creek. If you are not familiar with the area, there is no easy ski way back to the parking lot without the cat road in place.
I want to thank the Northwest Avalanche Center and Mt. Hood community for your support and I hope to represent all of you well in this coming season! If you have any suggestions on where I should make observations, or where your favorite backcountry ski areas are, please don’t hesitate to email me.
The Northwest Avalanche Center hosts a variety of avalanche awareness classes for various levels of experience around the Portland and Hood River areas. Please visit the NWAC’s website www.nwac.us, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, for information about these classes, avalanche and mountain weather forecasts, and related courses.
When traveling in the backcountry, carry your Beacon, Shovel, and Probe. Know how to use them, and choose your terrain and partners wisely.
CJ Svela - Paramedic, Ski Patroller, River Rat, Mtn Biker
Northwest Avalanche Center
Mt Hood Professional Observer