A few days ago I needed to get out and it was too cold to go climbing so I decided to head up into the mountains for a little ski tour. After checking the internet for current conditions, I landed on a plan to go from Bear Lake up towards Lake Helena and Notchtop. I thew some things into a pack, grabbed my gear, hopped in the car and was off. Molly was busy working on the fireplace so this was going to be a solo mission.
Pulling into the Bear Lake TH parking lot I was surprised to find a mere four cars in the lot. I guess it was a cloudy Tuesday afternoon. It was a bit cold (low 20's) but the wind was absent so I knew once I got moving, I would warm up quickly. I clipped on my skis, cranked the iPod and was off and by the time I hit the first junction, I was roasting. Here is a shot looking back at the junction.
As you can see by the sign, there was plenty of snow. This side of Flattop is well known for getting piles of wind transported snow. Along the way, I stopped and chatted with a friendly snowshoer who had been out since 6 am (it was 3:30!). As I gained altitude, the snow got deeper and the tracks got fewer.
The snow was generally light powder for about 8 inches and then a hard slab. After a bit I broke out into an open meadow under the east slopes of Flattop. I had heard that this was a pretty good spot for some easy, safe skiing so I decided to check it out. I picked a safe route to skin up the hill and was soon huffing and puffing my way up. At a nice little patch of trees about halfway up the slope I dropped my pack and took off my skis. I was being very conservative and decided this was high enough for today. Below me lay a wide open 25 degree slope of untracked snow. 25 degrees is important because it is very uncommon for avalanches happen at that angle. For fun I dug a snow pit and checked out the layers. I dug down about 5 feet and still didn't hit anything. I guess those little trees sticking out of the snow are bigger than I expected. I poked around the snow a bit, trying to get a feel for the layers. Understanding the layers of snow it a critical part of understanding how avalanches work. I tried to perform stability test where you cut out a column of snow about 2.5 feet square and them pound on the top of it with your shovel. I ended up smashing the column without any fractures or sliding, which is a good sign (I think!). After sipping some hot tea, I decided I had better start back. I stripped the skins off the skis, packed back up and clipped back in. I made it down the hill, making wide turns and only crashing twice. The first crash taught me a very important back country skiing lesson. When going down hill, make sure you zip everything closed. Crashing out there is like diving under water. That snow is deep and it gets everywhere! My first wreck left me completely buried and snow packed into everything. Oh, and dreads are like a snow magnet.
Safely at the bottom of the hill and now quite wet, I decided against a second descent and began the quick ski back to the car. Skiing the trail was fast and fun. What took me at least an hour to slog up, I covered in about 10 minutes. I arrived back at the car with a huge smile on my face. I think I'll go back out tomorrow....