Bottomless Graupel

The weather has been cooperating nicely this week. With rain forecasted everyday, I thought it would be a big pain to drive my moped around, but the timing has been impeccable. Every time I’ve been driving to class or to go skiing there has been a gap in the moisture. Good stuff.

Speaking of impeccable timing, on todays tour we were skinning across an open east facing slope that was right around 38 degrees and trying to decide if we should keep going or turn down hill and start skiing. My partner said we should keep going, and right as I took another step a whole storm slab cracked and slid about one foot. We decided to stop there.

The skiing today was really interesting. We skied a new to us face that is right out of the parking lot at Aspen Grove. It’s a great area because there is no approach, and the slope is fairly steep, and North East facing so it holds good snow for a long time, because the sun doesn’t affect it. There are also a number of trees, and it’s fairly low elevation, so the wind barely even touches it. Because of this it has great powder preservation and makes for good skiing long after snow storms, at least that’s what I’m assuming. Like I said, today was the first day we’ve skied it, and like most other days this winter, it was a storm day.

The snow that was falling is what we call “grauple.” According to the Wikipedia, “graupel, also called soft hail, hominy snow, or snow pellets, is precipitation that forms when supercooled water droplets in air are collected and freeze on falling snowflakes, forming 2–5 mm balls of crisp, opaque rime.” It kind of looks like hail, but it’s soft, and really fun to ski. The downside is that it creates a really weak layer for all new snow on top of to slide on.

At the top of our first run, I dropped in to perform a ski cut (a technique used to test the slope for avalanches, especially small ones, by cutting across the mountain to see if anything slides) because we were a little bit concerned with the stability of snow. Our first run can only adequately be described as weird. When I dropped in my ski cut was not executed well. Ideally you cut quickly from one safe location to another so that if it does slide you can get out of the way. But the deep graupel made my trajectory a failure. I needed to point at a safe point further down, and I way underestimated how slow it would be cutting across. Thankfully it didn’t slide and so I started making turns.

It was weird snow because if you got your tips under the snow it would try to throw you over. That’s what happened to my partner, he tomahawked twice! It almost felt like water skiing.

We ended up doing 4 laps, and each one got better and better. I think this happened for two reasons:

  1. We got better at skiing the deep graupel.
  2. The snow got lighter, and over two inches fell while we were skiing. The little bit of light fluffy on top of the graupel made the skiing really good.

By the fourth lap it just felt like super deep skiing. It wasn’t as variable, and it was way easier to ski.

On another note, I’ve been trying to decide if I should race the I-cup on Saturday. I’ve ridden my bike less then the grandmas on the bike paths this year, but I’m really curious how I would perform after so much time building fitness through skiing.

I’m leaning towards racing it, and just in case I do I threw in some intensity in the ski tour today. I did a short pyramid interval session on our third climb. 30 seconds all out, recover. 1 minute all out, recover. 90 seconds all out, recover. 1 minute all out, recover. 30 seconds all out, recover. Back to normal skinning.

I was happy with how I felt, and I definitely think that I still have some top end in me, even though I’ve done just about zip above zone 2 this year.

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