Ketchikan Snow Observations

A relatively small fraction of terrain frequented by backcountry travelers has a professional daily avalanche forecast available.

Please contribute your avalanche, snow and weather observations in the comments below. By sharing what you see, you could help someone Live to Ride Another Day.


23 thoughts on “Ketchikan

  1. Please take note of this post.
    At present, all verifiable information regarding temps, precipitation types, and winds across the area indicate that we likely began an avalanche cycle at higher elevations sometime this morning. Heavy dense snow fell above the 2,500 elevation line yesterday and into the night, but at some point heavy rain took over at all elevations.
    What this means is that there’s a pile of heavy wet snow that’s been placed on the snowpack. Those weak faceted layers and the ice crusts that were rather reactive last week will be more so now. Add the extra rain and warm temps of today, and things on all slopes in the alpine deserve a lot of respect. Certainly cornices will be primed to collapse. Cooler temps are returning, but if you’re heading up to ride or make some turns, it would be prudent to be very conservative in the terrain you access at least for the next few days.
    Please play safely and be prepared. If you’re accessing avalanche terrain a beacon, shovel and probe should be considered mandatory. And don’t forget a riding or skiing buddy. If you get buried by even a small slide, you won’t be digging yourself out.

  2. Hey All,
    It’s been an interesting day in the alpine on Deer Mtn. We dug three snow pits today, spread between the first slide zone and the open glade above the cabin. As often is the case on Deer Mtn. (and our area in general) there were vast differences in the snowpack within short distances and aspects.
    In general, all three pits revealed the same layers of weakness, so I won’t go into specifics on each pit. The first big surprise of the day was a 2-3cm ice crust at the surface. That formed at some point between Thursday and Friday night, and it could become an issue in the future if precipitation forecasts are a bit off. But presently it has dashed any hopes of skiing or boarding on Deer Mtn. The consensus is that it is the same situation on Dude Mtn. Below the surface crust lies 10-20cm of loose unconsolidated snow (fist) and that lies on a thin (1mm) rain crust. From that point to the New Year’s Ice (135cm down), the snow is fairly dense (two finger) with a rather hidden faceted layer at 55cm below the surface (ct19/Q2, No reaction on ECT).
    The item of note today was the New Year’s Day ice layer. Last week in testing it was super hard to get it to react—but that was on a SW aspect. All of today’s pits were W-NE and had (as one should consider) completely different results. All three pits had nearly identical results on the New Year Layer in both column compression (CT) and extended column (ECT). Also, those failures, when they occurred were “sudden” and “planer” in nature;
    Pit 1; -105cm—CT21/Q1 (2 tests), ECT 22, Q1
    Pit 2; -110cm—CT 20/Q1 (2 tests), ECT 21, Q1
    Pit 3; -97cm—CT 21/Q1 (1 test), ECT 22, Q1
    As is noted in the soon to follow video clip, it’s a deep weakness. Indeed you may be safe to ski across all of that, but what if there are three or five skiers? Snow machine? That’s a lot of weight. What happens if you cross a convexity or shallower snowpack area? Do you have an avalanche transceiver? A shovel and probe? Does your riding partner? Does he/she know how to use them? Do you ever practice?
    These are all tools you should carry and know how to use. Simply thinking that because you were fine last week then this week will be the same is incorrect. Get your hands into the snow and look at what lies beneath the surface. Truly, it’s the only way to know what you’re dealing with.
    Be safe out there Ketchikan. By early next week we will see rising temperatures and the likelihood of a lot of rain at all elevations. Cornice collapse is a certainty, and a natural avalanche cycle is as well. Please keep this in mind if you plan on being in the backcountry Tues-Thurs.

  3. Hi All,
    Mike here with a quick summary of the snow pack on Deer Mtn.
    Overall on wind-sheltered slopes the snowpack is fairly stable. A bit over 90cm snow has accumulated since Jan 1. All that snow fell upon a fairly solid rain crust that seems, for the most part, not so reactive (on the aspects we tested). There are two layers to note, both above the Jan 1 ice crust.
    The significant layer to watch is, at the moment, only 8-10cm below the surface. In a pit on a SW aspect that layer was quite reactive (ct1-3/Q1), (ect2-3/Q1). Fair enough. A 6” slab might not seem much to deal with…BUT…new snow is accumulating up there with little or no wind, and that will be loading that layer more. I ventured out into the first slide zone a bit to see what (if any) reaction I could get. The reaction was notable. As soon as I ventured into an area with wind effect, the slab broke loose. Seriously be aware of convexities with wind loading or shallow coverage areas. The second layer was down 40cm and is a faceted layer that failed easily (ct6/Q2, ect9/Q2). There certainly is the potential for the first layer to “step down” to the 40cm layer. Just food for thought.
    The 8cm weak layer will be one to respect for a while as temps have cooled and the likelihood of the crust being absorbed is small.
    We chose not to venture into more wind-loaded areas due to safety concerns, so, unfortunately I can’t give a good assessment of the conditions out toward the cabin. My advice, if you’re headed for the cabin, would be to stay on the south side of the peak in the trees
    “Whumpfing” was audible in places on Sunday on Deer Mtn., so if you were planning on making turns up there, you may want to reconsider, or at least stay in the trees…
    Remember, you can never look at a slope and deem it safe to ride. You have to get your hands into the snow to know for sure. Be smart and safe out there. Ride with a partner and have the proper tools to rescue your buddy—and make sure he/she has the tools and knowledge to rescue you.


  4. After sifting through weather data, web-cam captures, and local firsthand information, it seems prudent to make a couple of points here; A partially clear sky on Dec. 31 allowed for temps at higher elevations to cool below freezing, and that set the ice-crust that is noted in the snowpack summary video (posted earlier). It seems (after a lot of research and conversations) that the heavy rain that was expected at all elevations didn’t quite materialize in the sense that (at least on Deer Mtn) all the precipitation in the past 12 hrs or so has fallen as snow. If that is indeed the case, then there could be as much as 18″ new snow above the second overlook. The main point here is to please remember that now buried ice crust. It’s been frozen, wind-blown, thawed, and then frozen again before being buried under a lot of new snow, so it’s a really slick bed for new snow to slide on.
    If you’re headed up there tomorrow ride conservatively and ideally with a partner. Pay attention to what you’re seeing and feeling beneath your skis or board or snowshoes.
    Also, (this is awesome!) there is now a five star snow cave just before the first alpine/slide zone (above the second overlook). Big enough to house an expedition it’s a true and perfectly placed emergency shelter expertly built by Clark Davis and family. If you see Clark please let him know how much that effort is appreciated. Undoubtably that shelter will serve many climber/hikers through the Winter.

  5. This was originally posted via KVRS SAR FB page on Dec. 30, 2012
    Hi All,
    A bit of new snow up above the 2nd overlook (30-40cm) but temps are rising and we may see some rain throughout all elevations locally. Luckily, up until tonight, we haven’t had a lot of wind in the upper elevations. Most local areas are showing fairly stable snow packs But new snow could well be hiding wind slabs from last week (remember the wind slab video?)
    If you’re heading into the alpine to ski or sled, be mindful of lee slopes, cornices and areas where wind slabs could have been prevalent last week. As always, please have a shovel, probe and if you’re pressing avy terrain a beacon is absolutely mandatory!
    Be safe out there skiing or sledding and enjoy the Holiday.

  6. Winter has arrived in the higher elevations here and that means ever changing snow conditions at different elevations and aspects (direction that a slope is facing). Even though it’s early and the snowpack lacks depth, there is always the potential for avalanches to occur. Two snow pits were dug up on Deer Mtn. today to check out the early season stability. Here’s a quick rundown on the results of those profiles.
    Pit 1—this pit was dug at the top (starting zone) of the first obvious slide zone just below where the trail forks to access the summit or cabin. This area is mostly wind sheltered and here the depth to ground is 70cm (just under 3 feet). All in all the snowpack was pretty stable. A weak layer was noted at about 18” down—a hard ice layer lies just below and the snow hasn’t yet bonded completely. The column here failed at an easy/moderate force (CT11/Q2). At this pit the more notable item in my opinion was 15cm of very coarse unconsolidated ‘sugary’ snow at ground level (depth hoar). Sometimes this becomes an issue when the snowpack becomes heavy enough to collapse that ground (basal) layer and set off a big slide. This may be an isolated spot, though, as I didn’t see it at Pit #2.

    Pit 2—this location is a mostly west facing aspect at the top of the last gully before reaching the flatter ground below the saddle and cabin area. This area holds interest because of the effect wind has on the snowpack. It’s a spot that winds can blow the snow in very densely and create ‘wind slabs’ or alternately pick up snow and deposit it gently leaving layers of soft powder covered by a dense layer. In short, hard dense snow above soft snow is a setup for an unstable snowpack.
    So, at Pit 2 location there was 115cm snowpack (around 4.5 feet). And let me be frank—it was surprisingly unstable. The really weak layer was at 20cm down, and the 5 columns I tested all failed on the first tap on the shovel! Above and beyond that, two ECT (extended column test) failed—which means the snow slid across an extended area, (propagated) on the first tap as well. 10” of snow sliding may not seem like much, but if that ten inches spreads to say 100’ wide, and you find yourself in a gully below it, then that’s a problem.
    Another weak layer (hard ice crust seen in Pit 1 as well) did fail at the easy/moderate force (CT11/Q2) at the -80cm depth, and did propagate with more moderate force (CT13/Q2/3).
    The difference in the snowpack between these two pits is the thing to consider and keep in mind when you’re travelling in the backcountry. Today’s pits were less than 1000’ apart at the same elevation but on different aspects and one with wind loading effects (pit 2) and one sheltered (pit 1). Our terrain and micro-climates make snow conditions vary wildly, so if you’re out there, take a couple minutes to dig a pit and get a feel for the snowpack conditions. It may one day save your life.
    Remember, be snow smart and live to ride another day.

  7. Hey All,
    Just a quick note on the snowpack conditions. While things are slowly improving there still lies a seriously hard ice layer at like 1.5m down (deeper below cornices),
    and this layer has failed in a couple places in the last 24 hours. If you have a look to the saddle by Blue Lake you can see a huge crown that broke on Friday.
    Also, at/near the Deer Mtn summit glide cracks are opening up in the snowpack in general. This is significant because these cracks aren’t above cornices and seem to be separating more daily. That’s not to say that these cracks will fail and create a large avalanche, but it’s not saying they won’t. Snowpitsat the summit showed a coupleweak layers–one at 20cm down (ct3/Q1) and the old graupel layer at 90cm down (ct22/Q1). Finally the solid ice crust at 165cm down failed at ct 29/Q1. That’s asking alot for a skier to trigger, but notsomuch maybe for a sledder. And if the cornice collapse at Blue Lake stepped down to this layer…just sayin.
    Thisis the season if you plan to tour on those aspects with heavy solar exposure, maybe you should think about getting a REALY early start, and be outof the avy exposure before the sun heats things up.
    Just a bit to think about.

  8. 4/7/2012
    An AMAZING bluebird day here in Southern Southeast! This would be the first time I’ve dug snowpits in shorts and a short-sleeved shirt! (And if you read the previous comment, you may know that that is not such a welcomed thing!
    With the touchy layer(s) I’ve been seeing this week, I thought I’d go up today (after three warm days) and see of the graupel layers were beginning to bond.
    I dug a pit just above the 2nd overlook on Deer Mtn (el. 2600) on a WSW aspect at 30 degrees slope. At this location not as much wind-transported snow had accumulated, so I only had to go down 145cm to reach the raincrust layer from 3/25/12. Even here the graupel layer was loose and totally unconsolidated. At -45cm the waek layer (graupel) failed at ct6/Q1, and (on a second ct) @ ct2/Q1.. The lower graupel/ice-crust layer down 105cm failed at ct21/Q1and (2nd test) ct14/Q1. My belief is that the 2nd test failed earlier due to the fact I was in full sun and the air temp was 44f. I believe the solar heating was affecting the results, but idf anyone has any ideas, PLEASE let me know!
    On the ECT I had failure on the -45sm layer at ect6/Q1 and also on a “hidden” layer at -65cm-ect18/Q3 on a old rain crust interface. I did get the -105cm layer to fail in ect but only with a shovel insertion after 30 whacks on the shovel.
    HUGE pinwheels or snow-rollers were active all around me, but the location was pretty non-consequential.

    Today’s second pit was a lot more agressive,and I actually self-belayed for protection, but I really wanted data from up high on the peak and on this particular aspect–NNW, 45degrees, el. 2900′)
    Pit #2 had three distinct layers;
    #1 failed at -20cm at ct3/Q2 on a windslab that also propagated with the ect. (ect4/Q2). Below that was the infamous graupel layer (here @ -100cm) that failed at ct16/Q1, and the block just jumped doff the column
    One last weak layer was at -120cm down on a faceted, ice crust layer that failed at ct22/Q2. That last weak layer slipped at -125cm, ct22/Q2.
    Aside from the mid layer on Pit #2, all failures were on a layer of graupel. As noted the lower pit graupel was moist and beginning to bond (I think), but @ pit #2 the graupel was cold and vey preserved, so much so that when I was cutting the face of the pit, I dribbled out and onto the floor of the pit!
    Safe to say that with temps at freezing at night and raising into the upper 40’s during the day, these weak layers won’t go away anytime soon.
    Just keep that in mind, eh?

    Three pits all on different aspects in the lee of the Mon/Tues wind event had similar results. Two significant layers were identified, both as a result of graupel. The depths varied between 70 and 115cm and the upper (70cm) layer is 2cm of graupel, while the deeper (115cm) layer is at or more than 5cm. On 5 separate column tests the upper layer failed at ct3-5/Q1, while the deeper layer failed consistantly at ct5-7/Q1. The snow above both layers was very dense.
    Below is a PSA that we (KVRS Ketchikan Vol. Rescue Squad) ran in the community after I conducted the snowtpack profiles on Wednesday Apr 4 2012.

    On Mon. and Tues. we saw a high wind event at higher elevations accompanied with moderate snowfall above 2,200’ el. The wind-transported snow has produced wind slabs on all West to Northeast facing slopes, and a significant weak layer in the snowpack now exists at 24-42 inches below the surface. Snow stability tests conducted Wednesday failed easily on all West to Northeast aspects. Furthermore, cornices are large and will become more unstable with the solar warming forecast in the coming days. Avalanche danger on West to Northeast slopes is considerable and likely increasing through the weekend. Any persons venturing into backcountry avalanche terrain should have the proper safety gear and know how to use it. Give cornices a wide berth when travelling on or below ridgelines and avoid sun-exposed slopes especially when solar radiation is strong, or the snow is moist or wet. Careful snowpack evaluation, cautious route finding and conservative decision making are essential in the backcountry this weekend.
    Be safe, always ski, snowmachine, hike or climb with a partner and live to ride another day!

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