Avalanche Advisory for Tuesday, December 12, 2017

This advisory expires at Midnight.

Huntington and Tuckerman Ravines have Considerable avalanche danger today. Natural avalanches are possible and human triggered avalanches are likely. Careful snowpack evaluation, cautious route-finding, and conservative decision-making are essential. The only exceptions to this rating are the Little Headwall and Lower Snowfields in Tuckerman Ravine due to lesser development of avalanche paths.

 AVALANCHE PROBLEM: Wind Slab will be our primary avalanche problem. Storm Slab will develop into a secondary problem by the end of the day in areas less affected by wind. Avalanche size and distribution for a Considerable rating includes “Small avalanches in many areas, or large avalanches in specific areas”. Today we expect both. Left Gully and Chute had the greatest avalanche path development prior to the storm Saturday and Sunday and will be loaded by today’s wind direction. Other areas likely filled in significantly in the past several days, developing paths that could produce avalanches today. Despite the recent new snow, many boulders, bushes and cliffs lurk beneath the surface and in many slide paths making a ride in debris particularly dangerous. Today is a good day to go to the resort or climb at lower elevations.

 WEATHER: The Saturday/Sunday storm produced 14” of snow on the summit on Mt. Washington and was followed by consistently strong west wind, loading leeward terrain. Visibility has been limited since then, though we expect leeward terrain of a NW and W winds has seen significant loading and avalanche path development. By dark today, 10” or more new snow is forecast for our terrain with southerly wind around 50 mph. The temperature will rise this afternoon, likely increasing the density of the slab and stressing the soft weak layer below. Snowfall will slacken but continue tonight and tomorrow as wind shifts through W to NW and intensifies by midday tomorrow. Anticipate elevate danger tomorrow in many areas.

SNOWPACK: A switch flipped. Significant snowfall and loading wind speed and direction means that terrain which holds little to no snow 3 days ago could easily produce an avalanche today. The lack of visibility over the same time period means that we’re not certain to what extent avalanche paths have developed.  A layer of wind slab produced by the Saturday/Sunday storm and W to NW winds did avalanche and could still produce an avalanche where it has not already. Today’s significant snowfall and southerly wind will result in a new layer, wind or storm slab depending on location. This layer will likely be reactive to a human trigger. In areas receiving most loading today we expect natural avalanches by the end of the forecast period. The weather will likely keep many out of our terrain today, but anyone venturing into the ravines today should realize the increased likelihood for any developed snow slope to avalanche. This is our first 5-scale advisory of the season. The snowpack is in rapid transition, developing significantly since its minimal state late last week.

The summer Lion Head Trail is the safer route to the summit than trails through Tuckerman and Huntington. The Lion Head Winter Route will open when snow fills in avalanche paths on the summer trail and fills in the winter route enough to cover rocks, mud and bushes. The John Sherburne Ski Trail still lacks a packed base and has very thin cover. It’s getting closer but will remain a dicey ski choice today.

Please Remember:
• Safe travel in avalanche terrain requires training and experience. This bulletin is just one tool to help you make your own decisions in avalanche terrain. You control your own risk by choosing where, when, and how you travel.
• Anticipate a changing avalanche danger when actual weather differs from the higher summits forecast. For more information contact the Forest Service Snow Rangers, the AMC at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, or the caretakers at Hermit Lake Shelters or the Harvard Cabin.
• Posted 8:15 a.m., Tuesday, December 12, 2017. A new Advisory will be issued tomorrow.

Ryan Matz, Snow Ranger
USDA Forest Service
White Mountain National Forest
(603) 466-2713 TTY (603) 466-2856


Early season conditions

Winter on the Rockpile has had a difficult time getting established. A few hardy and eager parties have stormed the castle but, generally, conditions have been “wet” for climbers and “organic stone grind” for the skiers. I wish I could report cold and snow in the forecast this weekend but it looks like the mercury is going to climb above freezing again today and tomorrow, returning to where it was just 6 days ago. That’s not to say that you won’t find winter like conditions on your next adventure to the alpine in the near future, but don’t count on deep snow. The summit has recorded only 27” of snow this month, following only 3.5” in October. That month saw average temperatures 9F above normal on the mountain with 11 climate sites in New England recording the warmest October on record! All the warm days with cold nights have created lots of ice on trails, on the Headwall, along with the shady gullies of Huntington so remember to bring your microspikes and remember that the Tuckerman Ravine trail gets pretty sketchy when as the ice grows across the trail above the Headwall. Unless you are armed for mountaineering with crampons, consider the summer Lion Head Trail a safer alternative.

The record-breaking warm temperatures and paltry early season snowfall has stood in stark contrast to last season. On December 4th of last year we issued our first General Bulletin of the season. Soon after, two feet of new snow fell on an already snow covered fetch which led to a widespread Considerable rating issued in the first 5-scale avalanche advisory. And it was game on from there. Looking back over the past five years, it’s clear that avalanches happen early in the season. Early winter brings enough snow to fill in the nooks and crannies in the alpine zone and soon after, snow falling there has no place to hide from the incessant summit winds. In short order, our forecast area, along with other areas in the White Mountain National Forest that we don’t forecast, like Gulf of Slides and the summer Lion Head trail, rapidly fill with enough snow to avalanche. Even in a slow-to-start snow year like this one, there are bed surfaces around that can produce an avalanche and certainly a long-sliding fall. Early season, thin snowpacks are perilous for sure, with rocks and stumps and bushes lurking in your fall line. Refrozen snow with drifts camouflaging the old boot prints from previous warm days add excitement and threaten knees even in low angled terrain. In short, stay vigilant, especially in the early season.

Despite the record warmth around New England this fall, winter will come and with it, avalanches. Black Friday is a good day to sign up for an avalanche class this winter. These classes are good for everyone, especially your climbing and skiing partners. The skills you gain pay dividends and will give you the tools you need to shred and pull down with a better margin of safety. We can all use more tools to recognize the decision-making traps to which we are all vulnerable. If you haven’t taken a Level 1 class, or if it has been a while since you have, consider a course with Acadia Mountain Guides or Synnott Mountain Guides, who both generously donated courses to support the education efforts of the White Mountain Avalanche Education Foundation (WMAEF) and the 7th Annual Eastern Snow and Avalanche Workshop.

Speaking of the WMAEF, stay tuned to social media channels and this website for continuing education opportunities this season. The Foundation will be scheduling locally oriented avalanche awareness presentations around New England along with focused courses of a more technical and advanced nature at IME in North Conway. Both of these opportunities will be a good way to keep your head in the game no matter what your skill level. And if you interested in hosting an avalanche awareness talk at you college or retail shop, email the Foundation at avalanchefoundation@gmail.com.

See you soon! -F

Risk and reward

Avalanche debris extending into the trees, almost to Connection Cache, in Tuckerman Ravine. This avalanche followed 24″ of new snow and wind loading on Dec. 29-30, 2016.


I’d love for this post, just days before the 7th Annual Snow and Avalanche Workshop, to be an avalanche advisory. Heck, I’d be content with a General Bulletin warning of potentially unstable pockets of snow. But the reality is that the weather, and the climate, sets the stage for mountain travel conditions and the snow stability issues that spring forth. But, as the West continues to get hammered with snow and we skiers, riders and mountaineers suffer through our western friend’s Instagram glory, I will soldier on through this prolonged Fall gloom and rain knowing that it is best to be careful what you wish for. The days will get darker, the air colder and all this moisture from a super-heated Atlantic is likely to bring plenty of snow and ice to our hills.

I’ve enjoyed lots of good rock climbing weather and I know the surfers, mountain bikers, trail runners and other mountain/outdoors folk haven’t been lacking for good conditions for their chosen sports. All of these games that we play outdoors come with some degree of risk, to our health or even our lives. Many of us face risks that threaten our health, or life, at work. Some risks are palpable and clear, like re-roofing a steeply pitched roof, felling a fire damaged tree with a chainsaw, flying an airplane in challenging weather or climbing and skiing a steep gully. Other risks that we face don’t present as direct a threat or at least they seem more routine. Providing patient care in an ambulance, driving a car on the highway or making healthy food and lifestyle choices. All these things involve some degree of risk and all require us to make decisions as active participants, either alone or with others. We may make decisions that affect other people’s lives directly. According to research, an adult makes 35,000 conscious decisions a day. Most are mundane, like the 226 decisions about food that we make per day. But others are more serious. How do we make the right decision at the right time?

Our state of mind when we make these decisions is one of the major factors that determines when and how we live and die. It’s an awesome responsibility when you step back and look at it from a distance. I’ve been privileged to attend most of the ESAWs put on here in the Mount Washington Valley and I’ve travelled to 2 International Snow and Avalanche Workshops. Each one has sparked my curiosity in directions that have lead me to challenge my views, not just on the mechanics of snow and avalanches, but on the assumptions that I make about how I relate to those high-risk snowy slopes. This year, at the 7th Annual Eastern Snow and Avalanche Workshop, we’ll be looking more closely at risk decision-making. The speaker’s presentations and our panel discussion will allow us a glimpse at their world and engage risk from their perspective.  Their many years of work and play in snowy places along with the effort they’ve put forth to unravel the process, will likely shed light on my process, and yours too.

In 2009, legendary Canadian ice climber Guy Lacelle was killed in a small slide in terrain just like ours outside Bozeman, MT. Gallatin forecaster Eric Knoff will share this tale and hopefully shed some light on the incident that could easily have taken the life of you or me. Similarly, an accident in a deep weak layer claimed the life of a friend of our own Ryan Matz. He will tell this tale in a similar spirit of learning and gives us an opportunity to check ourselves. Jerry Isaak will share his approach to forecasting in remote area of Kazakhstan with no data but direct observation and the questions required for safe passage. Sarah Carpenter, co-owner of the American Avalanche Institute, will share her thoughts on checklists as tools for making the right choice. These are just a few of the presentations on tap next Saturday.

The speaker’s agenda is set and I’m making the final adjustments to the list of discussion topics for the round table session. It’s an exciting line-up, heavy with experienced backcountry ski mountaineers and guides and forecasters that share our passion for snow and travelling on it. No matter what the weather this week, or this winter, brings, we’ll all be facing decisions traveling in the mountains soon. Save the day to tune up your mental process and challenge your assumptions, not just about decision-making on powder days but anytime you face a choice when uncertainty of outcome looms and various pressures take their toll.

But it won’t be all serious! You have plenty to get excited about. Not only have you made some good decisions so far, at least since you’re reading this, you’re alive at least, but you’ll have some opportunities to win some great prizes though silent auctions and giveaways. The new lower cost of entry continues to buy you an adult beverage ticket from Saco River Brewing and a bunch of tasty snacks served through the day. And if that’s not enough, we have a number of big ticket items from skis, to jackets and packs to bid on, and a bunch of free stuff as well, so most folks will walk away with some sweet gear or schwag.

If you haven’t registered yet, do it now at esaw.org so we can get a close handle on how much food and beverages we need. It’s $50 General Admission, $25 students and military, just bring your ID. Folks that serve on our local SAR teams get the student rate as well, we’ll have team rosters at the door. Proceeds pay for the cost of the workshop and any profits will go to the White Mountain Avalanche Education Foundation’s effort to educate youth in snow science and avalanche safety…we’re working on an awesome curriculum to plug into Middle School science classes this year!

Thanks to our many sponsors donations to help fund this event and the WMAEF – the American Avalanche Association, DPS Skis, Outdoor Research, Hyperlite Mountain Gear, Sterling Ropes, Julbo, Acadia Mountain Guides, Equinox Guiding Service and Friends of Tuckerman Ravine.

I hope to see you there!