The Higher, The Dryer

White Out & Wide Open—The Blog Steve Janes
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White Out & Wide Open—The Blog

This past week we’ve had some fast-moving storms blast their way across the West leaving behind a bunch of snow followed by a thawing pattern. In the valleys that meant water puddles everywhere. In the mountains that meant some wet sticky snow.

Now there’s one thing you need to know about wet sticky snow … other than it sucks to be stuck. Usually, if you keep climbing in elevation, you will eventually climb out of the bad snow.

            Understanding snow quality can go a long way in turning a day where you spend all your time wresting sleds out of holes to a day where you bypass tough areas until you get to the good snow. And snow will change from bad to good in literally a few dozen feet change in elevation.

            Often when we’re riding during a warming trend, we’ll find ourselves fighting our way through sticky snow with no base for part of the ride, and then within a 200 yard stretch you can literally see the snow change to a dryer, crunchy snow (snow man making texture) where the snow will pack under the track.

            The key is to recognize where the bad snow is and be wise about picking your fights. Staying on a packed trail or off the steep slopes for a little while longer as you climb in elevation may be the difference in whether you spend all day tugging on the skis or all day grabbing a fistful of throttle.

            This week we were taking advantage of those recent storms while riding in some of the deepest powder yet this year. Early in the day we found the snow to be quite dry. But as the temperatures became warmer, the snow started to become a little sticky.

            The area we were riding is notorious for having deep creek drainages with the southwest slopes open and exposed to sun. We would drop through the deep powder in the shaded east-facing slopes only to fight with the snow as we tried to climb out of the west-facing slopes.

We kept encountering the kind of snow that would trench and you needed to keep momentum or you would plant your sled. And once the sled was planted, when you stepped off your sled you would sink all the way to your armpits.

            This is the kind of snow that would fight with you. You can’t walk in it. You can’t get on top of it. It just sucked your strength and created more work.

            Our problem was we were just riding at the wrong elevation. We needed to be 300-500 feet higher and we would climb out of this mess. Although its fun to take on challenges, it starts to get old when all you do is roll one sled out after another.

            What we should have done is stayed on the trail another five miles and we would have been at the elevation where the temperatures were more compatible with what we had started at. By the time we finally reached those elevations, we were all too tired and low on fuel to ride the good snow. It was time to head back to the trailhead.

            So if you find yourself in a situation where getting stuck is becoming a common theme because the snow is just too wet with no base, get high. Find an area that’s not getting a full day of sun and the temperatures are a few degrees cooler and you’ll likely find a spot where the snow is great. And great snow makes for a great ride.


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