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 Post subject: How safe is sugar snow??
PostPosted: Tue Mar 20, 2012 3:55 pm 
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Location: Colorado
I wanted to ask some of our more experienced splitboarders, how safe and stable is sugar snow? The last few year of splitting we have had some great conditions this time of year, but today we ran into a lot of sugar on northfacing slopes. It had a pretty fast bed surface and would move or collapse easily. We had no major sliding and no propagation. I was thinking of doing some bigger spring type lines soon, but dont want to put myself and my partners in danger. The aspects we were experiencing it on were 30-40 degrees and the sugar was a couple feet, to the entire snow pack deep. We just had 2 weeks of very warm weather here in Colorado. Please enlighten me, as i am staring out the patio door at Buffalo's Silver couloir and thinking about riding it tomorrow...

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 Post subject: Re: How safe is sugar snow??
PostPosted: Wed Mar 21, 2012 8:59 am 
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PedroDelfuego wrote:
I wanted to ask some of our more experienced splitboarders, how safe and stable is sugar snow? The last few year of splitting we have had some great conditions this time of year, but today we ran into a lot of sugar on northfacing slopes. It had a pretty fast bed surface and would move or collapse easily. We had no major sliding and no propagation. I was thinking of doing some bigger spring type lines soon, but dont want to put myself and my partners in danger. The aspects we were experiencing it on were 30-40 degrees and the sugar was a couple feet, to the entire snow pack deep. We just had 2 weeks of very warm weather here in Colorado. Please enlighten me, as i am staring out the patio door at Buffalo's Silver couloir and thinking about riding it tomorrow...


Your question has tons of variables and the answer depends specifically on the slope you're wondering about, which is why I suspect people have been hesitant to answer. It's way too general to give any kind of meaningful answer, but I'll attempt to give a very general answer.

Based on your description, it sounds like you're talking about either facets on the surface, i.e. well-developed surface hoar that's been growing for a few days at least, or a snowpack that has decomposed into an entire layer of depth hoar. If that's the case, it won't be a problem until it gets buried, but even the smallest load will stress it greatly as the structure of "sugar snow" is inherently really weak. What elevation were you traveling at? I suspect the "bigger spring type lines" you speak of will have an entirely different snowpack and the snow you observed will probably be buried and creating a nice persistent weak layer.

Please don't take this the wrong way, but based on your questions and the way they were presented it sounds like you need to work on your knowledge base and assessment skills before leading your pals into consequential terrain. Have you ever taken any courses or read any books on the subject? Have you tried to hook up with a more experienced partner?

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 Post subject: Re: How safe is sugar snow??
PostPosted: Wed Mar 21, 2012 12:12 pm 
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Location: Colorado
Sorry if my vernacular is not spot on, and this was written while drinking after a long day on the hill. I also realize that sugary hoar is a terrible bed surface. My question stemmed from my most recent outing when we encountered rotten "sugar" snow that I have had the displeasure of riding. Usually we deal with Continental snowpack here in CO, and the slopes in question were from 10-12+k in elevation. I usually hang up my gear when the snow starts to get "spring-like" but this year has been just awful, we have May/June conditions in March. I have no experience riding this garbage, and it seemed to just slide right off the hill. I wanted to know if this junk would have any propensity to move on it own? It just was freaking me out riding 2-3' of rotten ass slick sugar. I thought that maybe someone from a different climate or with tons of spring weather experience could enlighten me a little.

nickstayner wrote:
Please don't take this the wrong way,
No offense taken, on the internet everyone either sounds like an idiot or a genius, I guess today I sound like the former

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 Post subject: Re: How safe is sugar snow??
PostPosted: Wed Mar 21, 2012 12:29 pm 
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If its sugar top to bottom based on my experience its more likely to sluff under you, but not propogate (sluffs can be large though). Hazards are getting washed into a tree or hitting buried stumps and punji sticks, sinking down to your waist at times. Sluffs to the ground are not fun! Best to stay away. Not to mention postholing while skinning is awful. That said Id be suprised if Silver Couloir had those conditions, except lower down in the trees maybe.

I have experienced this a few times including just last april riding trees out of Blaine Basin in the San Juans. Ugly.

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 Post subject: Re: How safe is sugar snow??
PostPosted: Wed Mar 21, 2012 4:19 pm 
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Were the slopes you found these conditions on representative of the bigger lines you're thinking about? Similar elevation/aspect/terrain? Even having no firsthand experience in the mountains of CO, I would guess that none of the big lines you're thinking about have this type of snowpack.

It just occurred to me that you could be talking about really warm isothermic type conditions... is that what you mean by sugar snow? I could see that.

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 Post subject: Re: How safe is sugar snow??
PostPosted: Wed Mar 21, 2012 6:53 pm 
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:thumpsup: Thanks HFT. I know you have a lot of experience riding Buffalo. I have been staying in Willowbrook and thinking about riding it. Everything I usually ride seems to be in pretty bad shape. What a winter eh?

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 Post subject: Re: How safe is sugar snow??
PostPosted: Sat Mar 24, 2012 8:04 pm 
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In a situation where you have facets from the ground all the way up you could encounter dangerous sloughing conditions but the general avalanche concern would be safe. Keep in mind that in order for an avalanche to occur you need to have all of the following: 1.) steep enough slope, 2.) slab of snow 3.) weak layer below the slab, and 4.) a trigger. If your conditions are all facets then you do not have a slab and therefore can't have an avalanche. Many variables can exist to change the above blanket statement I made - heat and wet avalanches being one of them - so one should never attempt to pigeonhole on-the-ground information into a blanket statement as an excuse to ride a slope that may have other glaring negative observations.

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