As we enjoy the first real high pressure spell of the winter, we’ve finally found time to stop and reflect on the unparalleled season we’ve had to date. It will surely go down in the books as the winter of sore backs and powder-eating grins.
The last two winters have started strong but quickly fizzled. 2015-16 produced an early season snowpack that was well above average, but a dry late season returned us to average or even below average by winter’s end. While that could still happen this winter of course, it will be difficult to put a damper on the unreal snowfall we’ve had so far that’s produced a snowpack that is anywhere from 140-175% of average.
Immediately after cancelling our Backcountry Skills Course at the Williams Peak Hut in early December due to lack of snow, the faucet turned on and hasn’t slowed much until this week. The Williams Peak Hut has experienced what we believe to be record snowfall since it was first constructed in 1989. Settled snow depth at the yurts maxed out at 110″ about a week ago. SMG founder Kirk Bachman only recalls this much snow twice before – and then only in April, never in February. Shoveling has been an arduous and non-stop process, with a huge kudos to hutkeeper extraordinaire Skylar and all of our guides and hut renters that have done more than their share of moving snow.
The nearly constant snowfall has produced a strong snowpack devoid of the persistent weak layers we often struggle with. While the avalanche hazard has (literally) been extreme at times, the danger has fallen quickly after the storms and we’ve managed to get into steep terrain in the Sawtooth alpine on a few occasions. The fruits of the winter’s snowpocalypses were thoroughly enjoyed during high pressure the past few days when the avalanche danger dropped to low for the first time all season.
Despite prolonged snowy weather returning to the forecast as soon as tomorrow, we all know the rest of the winter could bring just about anything. But whatever happens, the winter so far will go down in the record books. There will be many stories told beginning with, “Remember back to the winter of 2016-17…?” Time to get out to enjoy the conditions and make those stories.