It was Chris' birthday so we went to ski two lines he'd skied with Christian Beckwith the year prior: Moonshot and Chuter Buck. Chris is a sharer. Whether its music, articles, videos or ski lines, Chris is happiest when he's sharing something with others. And so it seemed fitting that we'd go ski something he felt expert in for his birthday.
In getting to the Chute the Moon area below Peak 10,696 there are two obvious options: skin Mavericks and then boot from its summit up the high snowfield to the entrance of Chute the Moon or to skin 25 Short and traverse the exposed ridgeline. I thought the ridge between 25 Short and Chute the Moon would be new snow on top of sun and crust, a terrible if not impossible surface for sidehilling. We decided on the Mavericks option. It seemed like the right decision.
As we bootbacked from the top of Mavericks to the Chute the Moon saddle the visibility became low and then we were at the top. Chris went over to Moonshot and yelled that he was psyched to ski it instead of Chute the Moon.
The snow was thin and loaded at the top of Moonshot. To get into the line takes a very exposed traverse and so to mitigate the risk of a small sluff taking us for a ride off a 300' cliff I put Chris on belay and he sideslipped in while trying to get the snow to pull. Nothing went. I lowered Liza in on belay too and then followed ropeless. The skiing in Moonshot was dreamy.
We got to Chuter Buck just behind another party who promptly kicked off a 1' deep windslab that ran the length of the shot. They continued. We talked and felt good about it. If there was more looming it probably would have been set off by the stress of the windslab. What is funny is that if we were the first party in there we likely would have bailed at that point. There was a bit of nervousness and the anxiety of seeing that windslab run, setting it off ourselves probably would have tipped emotions overboard. Alas, it was another party and we avoided emotional decision-making.
The avalanche report was, for the first time since November, Low at all elevations. That said, up high there had been a bit more than 4" of new snow and that snow had come in with a decent amount of wind AND fallen, in many cases, directly onto either rain or sun crusts making it very susceptible to movement. We found wind slabs as deep as one foot and new soft cornices as large as four feet. These instabilities would likely not have entrained enough snow to create a hugely destructive slide, but when traveling in exposed terrain instabilities that may sweep a skier off their feet actually become considerable hazards, especially since they are so likely to pop. We went into the day predicting that those slabs would exist on leeward aspects and that is exactly what we saw. We were dealing with storm instabilities and went into the day planning on using proper tools to mitigate that hazard, i.e., belayed/unbelayed ski cuts.
Overcast with 24 Temps hovering between 20 and 30F at 10,000ft. Light to moderate wind with 4" of new snow and more coming throughout the day.
Red light. Fully avalanche terrain the entire way with convexities everywhere, cliffs, etc.
- Human Factor
Liza was nervous and we were kind of racing another group that was skiing Chute the Moon to Chuter Buck.
- Avalanche - None on similar aspects in last 48 hours.
Loading - Yes! The wind had loaded both aspects we were trying to ski.
Path - Yes! Both shots were quite tight, with Chuter Buck as wide as ten feet.
Terrain Trap - Yes! Chuter Buck had two cliffs in it.
Rating - No, it was "Low" at our elevation.
Unstable snow - No cracking, whumphing, collapsing.
Thaw instability - None at our elevation.
- Familiarity - Chris had skied both lines before, but I'm not sure this heuristic trap was at play.
Acceptance - I think here the biggest trap for us was knowing that today the rating for the day was Low, and that may have affected our decision-making a bit.
Commitment - It was a big tour up Mavericks and we were pretty committed to skiing something.
Expert Halo - ?
Tracks - This. I felt anxious about getting to Chuter Buck before the other party because I wanted to air through the cruxes, and I think that affected the way I skied and facilitated our skiing Moonshot.
Social Proof - After seeing the folks in front of us blow off the wind slab it seemed like we were all under the assumption that, certainly, nothing else would blow off. Perhaps this was a mistake?