Sliding into the Backcountry Mindset

Calling all back-country enthusiasts! As the earth makes its annual transition, from the aw inducing yellows of autumn to the enchanting frosty branches and knee deep pow of winter, too shall we. So, pack away your hiking boots and dust off your skis because Fernie’s backcountry snowpack has officially begun!

As Mountain Adventure Skills Training (MAST) students at College of The Rockies we have been getting stoked about the season to come with discussions of snowpack, avalanches, backcountry safety, and of course shredding the gnar. For MAST students and local shredders alike the early season weather and the early precipitation forms the foundation for the snowpack. Our early season habits also include practicing with snow safety gear and avalanche rescue. As weather ebbs and flows throughout the winter months it changes the profile of the snowpack; both a fascinating fact and crucial characteristic of the snow for anyone that is going to be getting out there this season. As MAST digs into the science behind snow we are mesmerized and intrigued by its characteristics and relationship to avalanche hazard.  

Early season snowfall is a vital aspect for great backcountry conditions and this year at MAST we have been keeping a close eye on the mountain tops and overall snowpack of the Fernie area. We have been recording temperatures, the dates of precipitation, overall wind activity and accumulation amounts. October 24 the first snowfall of the season dusted Fernie and our beloved peaks; approximately 5cm accumulated and stuck to the faces of higher elevation via Mount Fernie and the Three sisters. This snowfall was followed by cooler temperatures between -5 and -15 degrees celsius, brrrr. On November 2 as seen way up high at the Fernie Alpine Resort, the Griz Cam recorded approximately 16cm of new snow accumulation. Sadly, this snowstorm ended on a warm note with rain which evidently melted away the fresh stuff (aside from near our summit ridges). In the days to follow November 4 and 5 the low-pressure weather system was persistent in drenching Fernie’s valley bottom with rain, although at higher elevations snowfall was seen. We estimated around 10cm of snow near the tops of our surrounding peaks. 

On November 7, recorded on the Griz Cam, we were blessed with a snow dump of approximately 53cm which we believe was relatively dense and heavy snow. This accumulation of dense snow is auspicious for us back country lovers as it will help pack down the slide alders and other small shrubbery that are notorious for early season core shots and knee injuries.

All in all, our base is looking very promising and we have high hopes to hit the slopes as soon as possible. If all goes well in the next few weeks temperatures will stay moderately cold and snowfall will continue to accumulate consistently in the valley solidifying our snowpack base. As the winter months pass us by, MAST will be gaining a better understanding of snowpack, environmental and human factors that play a huge role in how we can play safely in nature’s backyard. Note to the wise, don’t let your first turns end your season as there are lots of early season hazards lurking below.