What mud season?
EAGLE COUNTY — While many locals are getting out the bikes, rafts and skateboards, backcountry enthusiasts are coming upon the prime of their season.
The deep snowpack has been stable this spring, keeping avalanche risk low and the stoke high.
Avalanche forecaster Spencer Logan, with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, has been forecasting avalanche conditions for the past 12 years or so. He says many years, under similar conditions, the snowpack is not nearly as stable as it is this year.
“Some years, we end up with weak layers that are causing big avalanches into April, and that just didn’t happen this year,” Logan said. “We had some early season snow that caused quite a few problems through January, and then a lot of those deeper problems went away, and we didn’t get the big avalanche cycles later in the season … so it’s turned out to be a really good season so far.”
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center has been doing regular forecast updates on avalanche.state.co.us, and will continue to do so through Memorial Day. It’s the only avalanche information center in North America which will keep the updates coming through May, something for which local backcountry enthusiasts are beyond grateful.
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“Everybody that I’ve been in communication with on the West Coast and in the Pacific Northwest, they’re in full-on spring mode,” says Weston Backcountry owner Leo Tsuo. “That’s one of the beautiful things about being in this region of the high alpine. Here in Colorado, we have easily accessible 13ers, where you park at the base, start walking, get to 12,000 feet and there’s still a lot of snow up there.”
‘BIG MOUNTAIN PROMISEd LAND’
Tsuo has been taking trips out into the backcountry a few times a week with his friends and family on the Weston Snowboards snowcat. A Colorado native, he says this time of year is his favorite by far.
“Almost every spring that I’ve experienced in Colorado has proved the state to be a big mountain promised land,” he said. “There still are concerns, but this is when the notoriously lethal Colorado snowpack turns isothermoic and it becomes go time on all those lines that I wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole during the middle season.”
Tsuo compares spring big mountain riding in Colorado with surfing on the Pacific Ocean.
“I have a totally different communication with Mother Nature at this time of year,” he said. “Everything has to do with timing; you have a one- to two-hour window on these melt-freeze days, when it’s just cold enough to freeze at night, and it’s warm enough to melt the snow so you can get on a huge line and have it be completely safe, where you can ride with total confidence.”
A self-proclaimed math nerd, Tsuo is taking full advantage of the information the Colorado Avalanche Information Center continues to offer every week.
“This is the time of year where I’m looking at all the weather information I can find — wind, temps, cloud cover, everything,” Tsuo said. “It requires the big mountain riders to pull out everything they know about reading snowpack and combining weather with snowpack and snow conditions to get out and do these things safely. And when you do, the feeling is incredible. It can’t be described in words.”
Tsuo recently joined Mason Davey at Weston Backcountry, and the two have begun the process of taking over the snowboard design and manufacturing brand after founder Barry Clark decided it was time to sell the company and relocate to a warmer climate. The company’s Big Chief splitboard was named among the best of 2016 by Transworld Snowboarding, and the company’s backcountry focus is clear.
However, with a good splitboard doubling as a snowboarder’s season pass to the never-closing backcountry, Davey said promoting safety must be their primary concern as they proceed.
“Coming from a background with search and rescue, one of the first things I did was bring in an avalanche awareness instructor to give free avalanche awareness classes,” he said.
In the future, “we want treat it like a family out there,” Davey said. “I’ve really seen that happening this spring and it’s great to see that attitude from people moving forward.”