Holiday Gifts - Powder and the Backcountry Bomb
Wednesday, December 25, 2013 at 02:48PM
Brian in Alaska Winter, Alaska skiing, Backcountry Bomb, Gear, Hatcher Pass

I'm not sure what's up with the holiday weather this year but Thanksgiving and Christmas in South Central Alaska has been damn sweet. At least in the Talkeetnas, anyway. Some of the other ranges are still waiting for good conditions but Hatcher Pass and been the place to be over the last month. It hasn't been all perfect. We've had our share of wind and freezing rain in between but seem to come up with powder and clear skies when it matters. Best gifts, EVAR!

Mat pondering the clean gut of MarmotNope. Not suckingThe snow pack at Hatcher continues to be hollow and weird but it skis surprisingly well and doesn't have enough cohesiveness to produce a major event, at least not yet. Over these last couple of days, Mat and I have been surprised by the quality of the skiing in spite of some nasty weather events. Cold temps have maintained the snow pack so we can continue to go back and farm more fun. More in depth analysis can be found here.

Jed Workman, Hatcher Pass avy guruAfter a new weather event, some lines at Hatcher Pass allow us to get up high and assess them from the top down. I've maintained in the past that one should try to climb what you ski and this makes sense when trying to avoid perilous ski conditions mid route. But on smaller lines like what we have on *******, dropping a cornice or cutting the top of the couloir provides a safe way of assessing stability. The lines are narrow enough that big events are unlikely most of the time. 

A handy tool I've grown fond of is the Backcountry Bomb. This is a castable cable that allows quick cutting of cornices onto ski slope below. Obviously, being aware of what is below, sometimes way below, is important to avoiding endangering skiers downhill from the action. The device is inexpensive, light and simple to use and works like a charm when applied properly. 

A ski pole works well to hack out a groove in the cornice which gives the Bomb the necessary bite into the cornice you want to drop. Make sure the grips of your poles are on tight and the flick locks are bomber on your adjustable poles lest you sent one sailing when cutting the groove.

A second groove completes the preparation and then a probe is used to "cast" the line out over the cornice and to guide the cable back up the other groove.Mat casting the cable downstream

Mat fiddling the cable cleanly into the slot post cast.The lines are then converged and, when pulled upon, quickly cuts through the snow enough to drop the cornice. It takes a bit of practice to figure out angles and sizes of cuts. It also goes without saying that you need to be careful when cutting and casting and not get too close to the edge. A roped belay is helpful if there's any doubt. Use your damn head out there!Thar she blows!Once dropped, the weight may trigger additional slides or step down to bigger slabs, all of which can guide ski plans.

After clearing out the loading zone I skied carefully down the spine kicking off smaller soft slabs that sloughed minimally. I entered the gut near the bottom and skied the dreamy apron to the flats. There were some significant ice chunk debris from a previous warm up and shedding event that ruined most of the other couloirs. We wend looking elsewhere.

The sunny side delivered some fun mindless powder skiing. Breaking our third skin track of the day left me with tired legs. We returned the next day and enjoyed pre-set tracks on neighboring features, all of which were super fun. The rain crust was funky in places, particularly where the wind had scoured the new snow away but otherwise there was little to complain about.


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