Selkirk Ski Touring

Ski touring at the Durrand Glacier Chalet (Dec. 28, 2023 – Jan 1, 2024)

I participated in some guided touring in the Selkirks during the period indicated with Selkirk Mountain Experience (see Selkirk Mountain Experience at the Durrand Glacier Chalet - Skiing, mountaineering, hiking and climbing. for information). We helicoptered into their main chalet, located at 1946 m and ca. 51.268° -117.980° on Thu morning under cloudy skies. During the flight in I noticed that many BTL ski lines featured dense alder in the avalanche fans suggesting a below average snowpack in the Carnes Ck. drainage at lower elevations. I also noticed an absence of (recent) natural avalanche activity, except for point releases from steep terrain. After an avi search and rescue session on the flats (HS ~ 150 cm) the groups toured up and skied north facing terrain below Woolsey Pk in the remaining daylight. Above timberline the light was quite flat and unfortunately, many lines were wind affected with breakable crust. I managed to twist my knee coming down under these conditions and thus had to spend the rest of my time touring in simple terrain. The following day, which featured clearing conditions, saw groups ski tour over to the Empire Chalet at 2118 m and 51.275° -117.921°. With the warm spring of 2023 and dry summer, crevasses had opened up on the glaciers in this area and these were poorly bridged or still open while the glaciers were wind scoured to bare ice in exposed locations. The groups roped up and a return route was marked in the case of poor visibility upon their return on Saturday. Nevertheless, good to excellent skiing could be found on sheltered, southerly aspects. Apparently, after a recent 25+ cm snowfall before our visit, an adverse wind-loading event from a northerly direction occurred in this area thus leaving behind the widespread wind crust encountered on the first day in north facing terrain. On Saturday afternoon the sun came out and it was quite warm in the alpine. I noticed (and overheard) numerous point releases off the large Tumbledown south face, though no large slab failures that I could spot. Nevertheless, the accumulated slides and entrained snow ran to at least half path of the main avalanche track, filling it with debris. The following morning (Sunday), I also noticed a small slide on the nearby Goat Face that did run full path and must have been triggered under similar circumstances (I could not see the start zone that day but located several point releases from rocky terrain near the top the following day with better visibility). The ski groups returning from the Empire chalet focused mainly on south facing terrain Saturday before returning to the Durrand chalet via various routes. Overnight Saturday and Sunday morning saw 10-15 cm of fresh snow but with low visibility and improved skiing on previously wind-affected aspects (I skied lower Durrand Bowl that day and turning was much improved with the new snow falling). The final day (Monday) saw some above tree-line and tree skiing to ca. 1700 m on several nearby lines. Below this elevation ski quality deteriorates rapidly due to the lower-than-average snowpack. My own observations are that ski quality was excellent at or below treeline in sheltered terrain both before and after this snow fall event. I personally did not see evidence of storm slab problems and the new snow came in with light winds. However, this year the snowpack in the Selkirks is shallow, and with basal facets, much like a Rockies snowpack. Further, snow profiles in this area show buried surface hoar at ca. 80 cm down with sudden failures in column tests on this layer (see Snow and ski report at the Durrand Glacier, Selkirk Mountain Experience for details Dec 17 2023). Steep start zones were avoided where this problem was encountered. Some may recall similar winters with heightened avalanche hazard, with potential for slab avalanches to step down to this weak facet layer at ground. Caution is advised when skiing in the Selkirks this winter, things are different from usual so far. In any event, a very festive week with great skiing was enjoyed by all in attendance. Happy New Year!