Written by Peter Terwilliger, Alpenglow Guide
We went out for a tour today to inspect conditions along the Andesite ridge and around the Castle Peak area of Donner Pass. Quickly upon entering the trees and protected north / northeast facing terrain we observed some pretty spectacular surface hoar that has been growing despite our warm daytime temperatures. These crystals will be found in protected areas from wind and solar exposure – the largest surface hoar crystals I could find were upwards of 20mm in size.
We continued our tour up towards Castle Pass and followed the ridge north toward Castle Peak. Along the way we encountered all types of sliding surfaces thanks to the warmer temps during the daytime, cold temps at night, and steady winds. Prudent skin track setting is required to avoid more slide for life snow surface conditions so don’t be afraid to set a better skin track folks – no need to follow the masses across vertical skating rinks or rocks. That being said, certain portions of our day felt more like spring days with corn snow under our feet and wet skins. We descended at around 8500’ elevation and skied through trees on a north / northeast facing slope. The most surprising thing, given our relatively warm daytime temps since our last snowfall, is that the north-facing and protected snow is still enjoyable to ride, albeit a little unpredictable. Old tracks, frozen snow bombs from the canopy above, and low coverage add to the challenge of finding good snow, but it’s still out there! The fun snow to ride right now will be what we like to call recycled powder, the kind of snow that doesn’t make a good snowball and is airy and dry, almost like sugar particles. This snow is continuing to facet, meaning it is becoming more angular and creating weaker bonds as it develops given our current conditions and weather.
We skied into the meadow below and toured out along the PCT back toward Castle Pass. Along the way we dug around in the snow a little to see what could be found. We found snow depths on a NW facing slope at 7900’ to be around 80cm. Surface hoar crystals sat on top of the snowpack with advanced faceting crystals all the way throughout – despite one ice crust layer closer to the bottom. We played with some stability tests and found nothing of note. Skiing back along the skin track from Castle Pass felt like the most hazardous part of the day, as with all the human traffic the trail is quite firm and fast.
The bottom line: there is still powder snow to be found, albeit recycled. Our snowpack is cohesive in its weak nature and it will be interesting to see how the next snowfall event will interact with the existing poor structure that we have. Be cognizant of our low coverage and try to stick to higher elevations and north facing terrain.