Rooting around, Pt. 2: Philosophical differences in the Swan Range.

This was a good year for hut trips, and for the third (or maybe fourth) of the season, I went to Yurtski in the Southern Swans.  What to say about this zone…  the terrain off in the distance is inspiring, there’s some pretty fun powder skiing, the runs are short, the bigger stuff gets hammered by the sun. 

The snowmobile tow in went off without a hitch, except for when my tow rope snapped, and my ‘bile driver didn’t turn around for the next five miles.  Fortunately, we weren’t last in line, and as such managed to tow behind the next one.  With five of us, that poor machine was taxed.


This year, a significant amount of accumulation had occurred, just after a period of high pressure had left an insidious sun crust on south aspects.  As such, conditions were spicy, in precisely the way that Dudley from WCMAC had described in the week’s advisory.  The first thing I did upon arriving at Yurtski (after shoveling and drinking some cider), was to skin up a ridge and remotely trigger a large slab avalanche on a south aspect.  No shooting cracks near me, just a big whoomph, and the slope 100 feet away failed big.  North aspects were much better, with no problematic weak layer present, and I resolved to ski north aspects for a few days.  The snow was better there anyway.

Unfortunately, some members of our rather large group did not feel the same way about south aspects, and after one low angle south east facing run, decided that steep south aspects were no longer suspect, and promptly got slid by a slope with a similar aspect and steepness to that which I had remotely triggered two hours previously.  Apparently, the victim managed to hold onto a small tree, and thus avoided being swept into the larger trees at the base of the slope.  Gear loss was limited to goggles.  I wasn’t there at the time, having elected to ski some fantastic steep trees on the other side of the ridge.  It seemed a nerve-wracking experience for all involved.      

Near the bottom of the slide path a few minutes before it occurred.

We skied north aspects the remainder of the day, as well as much of the next day.  On the dusky return, some of our group decided to again ski a steep south aspect.  I elected to ski the trees again, not comfortable with only allowing the obvious south aspect weak layer 24 hours to bond.  Nothing slid, and members of our group took this as a sign that south aspects were now good to go, and proceeded the next day to ski big south faces with abandon.     

A well worn skin track.

Crafter of the track.

 I (and others) decided that the snow was still probably safer and more powdery on north faces, and skied these the next day too, including the fun and wild north face of Morrell Mountain.  The weather was glorious, and we were treated to good views of the Missions and the Scapegoat. 

The Missions.

The Scapegoat.

With the snow heating up and becoming gloppy, it was time for the long descent and road traverse back to the trucks.  Not wanting to ruin my nice new hot wax, I refused to kick wax my snowboard, and did most of the six flat miles with full skins.  Not the most efficient tactic, I think, but not too bad either.   

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