Wheeler Peak ski (from Taos Ski Valley, NM)

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Wheeler Peak ski (from Taos Ski Valley, NM)

Postby skykilo » Sun Dec 18, 2011 5:57 pm

I climbed and skied Friday then climbed again yesterday, figgered I should ski today because it's in season.

I am now plagued with one of those chronic maladies that come with age: I can't sleep late. So when I was awake after <6 hrs of sleep at 7 am this morning, I eventually decided it was worth the trouble and carried my ski gear down the stairs to my car and drove to Taos.

The base of the ski area is ~9,200 ft. I rallied my car up the snowy 4WD road to the upper base, ~10,000 ft. Here comes Johnny Law.
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No parking pass necessary and they didn't want to hassle me about anything. They just wanted to know what I was going to do.
"I'm going to ski one of those bigger peaks up the valley."
"That's cool."

I actually didn't intend to ski a peak today. I was not counting on the snow stability. Maybe that's the same reason nobody else was up there?

Just a cathartic Sunday visit to the hoar house.
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This is the backside of Kachina Peak, the top of Taos Ski Valley's hike-to terrain. I would like to ski some of those sweet steep slopes one of these days.
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I leisurely ambled my way up the basin and found my proclivities were in the direction of Wheeler Peak, the highest peak in New Mexico. I was exceedingly careful. The spatial variability around here is ridiculous: the altitude, wind and sun all have their way with a generally thin snowpack. But I found a reasonably safe route for my solo tastes.

Lake Fork Peak, across the way, has terrific terrain. But I did not want to play with more wind loaded aspects today.
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I managed to mosey my way to the top of Mt Walter (13,141 ft) then Wheeler Peak (13,162 ft). The holiday spirit was alive at the top. So good to have the whole family together!
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I had a Christmas song in my head due to cold wind.
"Jack frost nipping at your nose."
It made a strange segue into an NWA chorus.
"It don't matter just don't bite it."

WANT
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I was extremely cautious, but found lots of good wind-packed powder.
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Seriously, want
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Obligatory shot of the Rio Grande.
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HASTA LUEGO
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skykilo
olikyks
 
from Santa Fe

Re: Wheeler Peak ski (from Taos Ski Valley, NM)

Postby DonJuanPakistan » Sun Dec 18, 2011 9:46 pm

Hasta pronto pasta masta. Looks lovely. Can you elaborate on spatial variability a little bit?
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DonJuanPakistan
Trippin' travellin'.
 
from Seattle, Washington

Re: Wheeler Peak ski (from Taos Ski Valley, NM)

Postby skykilo » Sun Dec 18, 2011 11:34 pm

Sure thing. The snow tends to be light and not so deep. The sun is intense. The altitude is high and the shade and the nights are very cold. And the winds can be relentless. There are lots of ridges that have bare rock on one side with large windslabs deposited on the other side.

Winds and light snow on less extreme terrain features apply all over the place to the ribs, gullies and general undulations of the terrain. Rocks become covered, but not by much, then prolonged cold, dry weather follows and creates a lot of faceting. Also, the rocks can catch heat from the intense southern sun really quickly. Basically the snow never gets as strong and it seems like there is a much denser minefield of weaknesses hiding under it.

How about a bad example? Climbing CJ Couloir there is probably an avalanche fan where the snow is totally consolidated, maybe with some death cookies. Then there is the choke, perhaps with deeper snow or a runnel or some ice. The couloir above the choke is likely fairly homogeneous until the steeper section near the top or until you get high enough to feel the effects on the snow due to the wind whipping through the col. So that's a total of four hypothetical overall changes in the structure of the snowpack in 3,400 ft.

It seems like around here you can easily find three totally different types of snowpack within a few hundred feet. Powder in shady trees to spring glop in sunny trees to powder in the open to windslab on a roll to rotten hollow snow over rocks to bare rocks within a few hundred feet. The overall snowpack and the density of weaknesses/triggers will vary anywhere over time and space. But it seems like they change exceptionally rapidly around here (and also in the CO Sangres and San Juans and probably elsewhere too). It's kind of a fun game; I feel like it's really important to pay attention. Which is actually always the case, anywhere.
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skykilo
olikyks
 
from Santa Fe

Re: Wheeler Peak ski (from Taos Ski Valley, NM)

Postby ryanl » Sun Dec 18, 2011 11:51 pm

Beautiful spots dude.

Thanks for snow evaluation talk. Zach Guy gave a presentation on spatial variability at the this years Snow and Avalanche Summit. He and some folks did a bunch of research at Big sky (or Bridger, I forget) that supports exactly what you're saying, that snow stability/conditions can vary wildly in short distances. His study was pretty cool- they basically did enough field tests to map several couloirs in a common cirque.
ryanl
 

Re: Wheeler Peak ski (from Taos Ski Valley, NM)

Postby Alex » Mon Dec 19, 2011 5:39 pm

skykilo wrote:Obligatory shot of the Rio Grande.
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That looks a lot like BC right now, except we have less snow.

I'd actually be really stoked to go climbing right now. I went indoors this weekend and it was not too painful (as long as I didn't use my left leg too much). It's amazing how excited I was just to be climbing plastic things on a glorified bouldering wall while attached to a rope :P
Alex
 

Re: Wheeler Peak ski (from Taos Ski Valley, NM)

Postby skykilo » Tue Dec 20, 2011 5:43 pm

Alex, it's extra funny for you to bitch about the snow right now since you can't even ski at the moment. BUT, for the sake of righteousness and perspective, Whistler-Blackcomb has had TWICE the snow Taos Ski Valley has had. And people here are stoked.

I hope your rehab is going well and you're on it again soon.
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skykilo
olikyks
 
from Santa Fe

Re: Wheeler Peak ski (from Taos Ski Valley, NM)

Postby Alex » Tue Dec 20, 2011 6:31 pm

They're likely just more honest with their snow reporting.
And I like bitching... some people complain about politics, others complain about society, I complain about snow conditions. Everybody needs something to bitch about.
Alex
 

Re: Wheeler Peak ski (from Taos Ski Valley, NM)

Postby E_$ » Wed Dec 21, 2011 9:33 pm

nice tr. also enjoyed the snow/variability discussion. your hypothetical CJ is spot-on as of Saturday.

and the subsequent bitching cracked me up, alex. lacking any other qualms at the moment, i'm gonna go bitch about you bitching.
E_$
imminent whippage
 

Re: Wheeler Peak ski (from Taos Ski Valley, NM)

Postby Alex » Thu Dec 22, 2011 6:11 pm

excellent.

although I was just trying to be funny. FAIL
Alex
 

Re: Wheeler Peak ski (from Taos Ski Valley, NM)

Postby skykilo » Thu Dec 22, 2011 8:30 pm

In honor of bitching: what's my favorite word?
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skykilo
olikyks
 
from Santa Fe


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