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Skiing: Backcountry snowpack touchy in Colorado

Monthly Breckenridge ski patrol talk to focus on backcountry travel techniques and terrain choices

There's plenty of good backcountry powder skiing in Summit County, but it's best to stay on low-angle terrain right now, like this 28-degree slope on Baldy, Photo courtesy Matt Krane.

There’s plenty of good backcountry powder skiing in Summit County, but it’s best to stay on low-angle terrain right now, like this 28-degree slope on Baldy, Photo courtesy Matt Krane.

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CAIC forecaster Tim Brown examines the crown face of a large avalanche in Montezuma Bowl, at Arapahoe Basin. Photo courtesy CAIC.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — With forecasters warily eying backcountry avalanche hazards and more snow on the way this week, Breckenridge ski patrollers will focus on safe backcountry travel techniques, route-finding and terrain selection during their monthly talk this Thursday evening (Village at Breckenridge, Tenmile Room, 6 p.m.).

The topic is especially timely following recent close calls and a cycle of natural slides in the backcountry, said Breckenridge ski patroller Matt Krane. Last week, a party of four backcountry travelers were involved with a sizable slide on Peak 6. Continue reading

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Morning photo: Avalanche control at Breckenridge

The wind giveth and the wind taketh away …

Wind-transported snow can be a magical dream or a nightmare.

Story and photos by Matt Krane

*For more info on avalanches, snow science and avalanche safety, attend one of the upcoming public Breckenridge Ski Patrol info sessions, the third Thursday of each month (Feb. 16, March 15, and April 19) at the Ten Mile Room in The Village at Breckenridge.

SUMMIT COUNTY — One of the most superb skiing experiences at Breckenridge has always been the velvety flat, steep ‘windblown’ surface that often develops during post-storm wind cycles. It’s developing right now in Horseshoe Bowl, but to put things in perspective, less than a week ago the T-bar was not yet open to the public.

A fracture line is visible on classic convex avalanche from lower Peak 7 terrain, groomed snow in foreground.

Continue reading

Avalanche beta from the Breckenridge Ski Patrol

Local snow safety experts discuss avalanche control and backcountry safety

As the CAIC likes to emphasize regarding early season avalanche hazard, if there's enough snow to even think about skiing, there's enough snow to avalanche. During early season avalanche control work in closed terrain on Breckenridge's Horseshoe Bowl, early season hazard in the Continental snowpack is easily illustrated. The first shot in 'Lulu' produced no results. The previous night's snowfall measured only 4 inches. Is that enough snow to produce hazard? What if, during and after, moderate winds blew?

By Matt Krane

As part of its community outreach and continuing education, the Breckenridge Ski Patrol’s snow safety department presented the first of five lectures on avalanche safety, snow science, and snow sense last Thursday in the Forest Room at The Village conference center.

In a survey, more than a few attendees raised their hands as first-year residents of the county, with more identifying themselves as second-year veterans.

Breckenridge Ski Patrol snow safety supervisor Will Barrett said — not unsympathetically — “Boy. You folks who got here for last winter are in for a surprise. That was not a normal winter.”

What we experienced last winter was an anomaly; extensive snowfall over almost 7 months that originated in the warmer, more moist Pacific Northwest region, according to avalanche technician Andy Lapkass. Continue reading

Krane: Breck ski area to expand backcountry access

Matt Krane.

* Editor’s note: Breckenridge ski patroller Matt Krane is contributing occasional posts describing life at Breckenridge ski area from the perspective of a patroller. In this latest installment, Krane talks about what it took to get the mountain open after big December snows, as well as plans for expanded backcountry access.

By Matt Krane

I was planning to write a bit more frequently than once a month, but when the the snow came so fast and furious, we all on the Breckenridge Pro Patrol found ourselves opening up the entire mountain, and I mean WALL-TO-WALL, by Christmas Day, pulling extra duty and hours in the process. It’s not often that we see abundant snowfalls during such warm, moist Pacific fronts, but this is the Christmas present that La Niña has gifted us with. It is literally dumbfounding to look up at the vast above-treeline expanse that is Whale’s Tail/Peak 7 terrain and see none of dirt ridges and rockfields that define much of the terrain up there. To ski through these pitches in superb north-facing dry Colorado powder (the Tail, George’s Thumb) and not see anything but snow for your next twenty turns is equally impressive.

A happy Breckenridge ski patroller with a five pound air-blast charge preparing for an avalanche control route.

Because a heavier, warmer snowpack is not our norm, the patrol and our ever-vigilant snow safety department and avalanche technicians spent countless hours and hundreds of pounds of high explosives on successive days to open upper Peak 7 by the week after Thanksgiving. A temperamental mountain with a storied history, Peak 7 has been skiing absolutely superbly top-to-bottom. more than a few multi-charge ‘airblasts’ were utilized to help confirm the mountain’s great shape before opening. Many townsfolk commented on the number of blasts they were hearing, not to mention the inward flexing of their windows, and the occasional piddling of their canines … indoors. Continue reading

Skiing: Breckenridge patroller Matt Krane shares his views

When he's not patrolling, Matt Krane can be found chasing fat fish in waters far and near.

Editor’s note: Breckenridge ski patrol veteran Matt Krane has agreed to write some semi-regular posts with updates from the mountain and some thoughts on the daily the life of a ski patroller. I’m hoping he may even be willing to answer questions from readers, so feel free to post any questions in the comment area or e-mail them to bberwyn@comcast.net.

By Matt Krane

The tremendous amount of snow which the Breckenridge Ski Area has received since late October has staff mountain-wide very busy with the largest Thanksgiving week opening possibly in history.

Just two weeks ago during Ski Patrol’s four-day fall orientation, we were climbing lift towers in shirtsleeves. Opening day was a powder day with hike-to skiing in the Front Bowl. We opened the T-bar less than a week later on a sunny day after 20 inches was measured on our upper snow stake. The base was truly amazing; those 20 inches skied like 30 inches; every other turn in the Bowl was a ‘cougher’, and there were hundreds of smiling faces, incredulous that so much incredible skiing had been opened so quickly. The accolades and thank-yous we received in line, in the huts, on the hill, myself — working on ropes on the T-bar line — were a great boost to morale.

A Breckenridge ski patroller assembles five-pound explosive charges in preparation for avalanche control work. ALL PHOTOS BY MATT KRANE.

So much work goes into a big, early opening like this, not the least of which is avalanche control work, which then begets rope work, sign deployment, and more rope work. Continue reading

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