Wasatch BC Conditions – 11/23/2013

| November 23, 2013

Executive Summary: A nice excuse for locals to wander around in the mountains, but hardly worth traveling out-of-state for.

Yes, there have been quite a few photos of people bustin’ pow in the Wasatch, but that has more to do with the lens craft of good photographers than reality. It is still very rocky, shallow and challenging in the backcountry.  I’d say the conditions were a mix of sugar, stiff meringue, rocks, trees and dirt.  The best skiing is probably at the resorts, which appeared to be packed. Some of the high, classic chutes are filled in (Suicide, Wolverine, Cardiac, etc.) , but with deep, rotten snow, I’d avoid them for quite awhile.

My general rule of thumb is that skiing by Halloween means the Wasatch is off to a great start, skiing my Thanksgiving is about average and skiing by Christmas is poor.  So far, we are off to an average start, but with a handicapped snowpack.  This is subject to change within 24 hours, but if we get a classic year of lots of little (6-12″) refresh storms, it will be yet another dangerous season.  Gushing rain or a huge 100 inches in 100 hours would help to blow the instabilities out, but so far it has been windy and cold, just like Utah’s nemesis, Color… well, you know where.  The place where pot is legal.

The crux of the Wasatch is the elevation, or lack of it, as the skiable zone is from about 6,000′ to 11,000′.  For reference, most of  the respectable resorts start at around 8,000′ and go up. In a low snow year, like the two we’ve just had, this means the skiing is from from 8k to 11k, which means the same old, same old – Days, Cardiac, White Pine, Grizzly, Silver Fork, etc..  This is all great skiing, but when it fills in down low, like to 6,000′, there is exponentially more skiing and substantially less crowding.

A good (?) acronym for happy powder hunting in the Wasatch is SNIFF ME  – Sheltered, North Facing, Mid Elevation.  As of 11/23/2013, the missing element is mid elevation as it just hasn’t filled in yet and the tops are blown out.  Please try again later.

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Category: current conditions, Wasatch Mountains

About the Author ()

Andrew McLean lives in Park City, Utah and is a gear designer, writer, photographer, ski mountaineer, climber and Mountain Unicycle rider. He and Polly Samuels McLean are the parents of two very loud little girls.

Comments (3)

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  1. Chriscawley says:

    Early season low snow conditions are when resorts are a nice resource. Dense skier traffic exposes rocks and stumps, and packs what snow exists into a hard, edgeable surface, creating unique “terrain features” (moguls if you’re at Killington), while low sun angles generally leave the snow surface cold and chalky. Skiing such conditions is vastly preferable to: outdoor yoga at Liberty Park on a red-burn day; being physically present on main street in Park City during ski season; taxes/colonscopy. Or, grab the tights and some technical snacks, and head to Brighton!

  2. Patrick Fink says:

    Andrew, for what it’s worth, Cliff Mass, meteorologist at the University of Washington, says that we are in for an average year el/la niña wise. What that portends is an average total snow year. Interestingly though, he said that the largest weather events happen in average years, as the stability of the jetstream etc allows for larger storm events. Hopefully that means that this year we’ll have more big storms and not just a bunch of little doses. Does your experience of average years in the Wasatch agree with Cliff’s observations?
    Patrick Fink

  3. Cliff’s comments sound about right for the Wasatch. The most annoying part of lame years is when a big storm is tracking down from the NW and then doesn’t have enough ummph to make it across the Oregon/Idaho plains, so it split and the bulk of the snow is wasted down south where it is generally too warm to stay frozen. A cryin’ shame.

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