Spring is in the air! Here in the Northeast that means occasional sunshine, slightly warmer temperatures, a bold, oft-too early forsaking of layers, and, best of all, spring skiing!
During the winter months, New England is a brutal place to ski. High winds and sub-zero temperatures make chairlift rides a bummer and can destroy snow quality in unprotected backcountry areas. Wind slabs are common place, and high snow winters, like this past one, present very real avalanche danger.
Something magical happens in March. As temperatures begin to warm, the neon headbands and old-school onesies come out, and New England becomes a giant skiing party. Corn, or “New England Powder,” as we sometimes call it, is often the highlight of the ski season. I like to call it “hero snow” because it makes you feel like the king of the slopes, no matter your skill level. It is a wonderful change from the rock hard ice of a normal winter.
This winter, however, beware of the corn.
This past weekend, there were six avalanches on Mt. Washington. Three of them were human triggered, including one by a local ranger who was out scouting avalanche conditions for the day (you can read his write up on the event and what he did wrong here). The three others triggered naturally in dangerous terrain areas. While there were no fatalities or serious injuries in any of these slides, it is a startling reminder that avalanche danger does not go away with the change in season.
In heavy snow seasons like this, avalanche safety takes an extra priority. Most New England skiiers aren’t used to having this much snow on the ground and don’t understand the added risks. With bigger, frequent storms, layers are larger, and the chance of a persistent weak layer goes up. On top of those weak layers as well is an increased snow load, one that we rarely see here in the Northeast. As snow warms, some new snow falls, and winter turns into spring, the snow gets heavier, and slabs can appear out of nowhere.
Luckily, no one was hurt this past weekend. But if you are heading out to the backcountry this spring, especially to such high profile, high difficulty destinations as Tuckerman’s Ravine, be sure not to leave your avalanche gear at home. You never know when you might need it.
You can check out the Mount Washington Avalanche Center for up-to-date avalanche forecast each day. Don’t go out without checking the weather, the potential conditions, and if there have been any major avalanche events in the recent days, before you leave.
(Thanks to Mount Washington Avalanche Center for photos and all the work they do to keep people safe out there)