A Variety of Winter Weather

Flagstaff’s February weather has been very active with rain and/or snow recorded on seven days out of the first fifteen. Several days of snow on the Kachina Peaks covered the trees with a thick coating of rime ice and lots of new snow on the slopes.

Rime covered trees in the Kachina Peaks.
Rime covered trees in the Kachina Peaks.
"Flying Dutchman." It's steeper than it looks.
“Flying Dutchman.” It’s steeper than it looks.
"Allison Clay."
“Allison Clay.”
Weeds in the snow.
Weeds in the snow.

And then we had an “atmospheric river” that produced a significant amount of winter rain with about 1.5 inches falling in the Flagstaff area. The runoff in Oak Creek and its tributaries was impressive.

Pumphouse Wash—a normally dry wash—running at high volume.
Pumphouse Wash—a normally dry wash—running at high volume.
Oak Creek at Grasshopper Point: a popular swimming hole when quieter water prevails.
Oak Creek at Grasshopper Point: a popular swimming hole when quieter water prevails.

And the forecast for the next week or so is a continuation of stormy weather with lots of snow for the higher elevations. I believe the long-anticipated El Niño has finally arrived.

Powder skiing in the Kachina Peaks—Part II

The last major snow event around here was a multi-day storm from January 19–25 that put down about 36″ of snow in town. The Kachina Peaks received anywhere from 5 to 7 FEET of snow. Since then, the weather has been pretty quiet with no storms. The snow in town had melted away and the snowpack in the mountains had melted/sublimated substantially.

Finally, however, another snow storm moved across the area earlier this week bringing about 16″ in two days to Flagstaff and about 18–24″ across the peaks. Time to hit the slopes.

New snow on a toppled aspen tree.
New snow on a toppled aspen tree.

Our original destination was the area known as Allison Clay but that idea was abandoned because of the amount of trail breaking required to get there. Instead, we went for the nearer destination known as Flying Dutchman. A few skiers had already broken a trail to the top of the area so we had an easy climb. Thanks, guys!

Here are a few images from the downhill runs.

At the top of Flying Dutchman.
At the top of Flying Dutchman.
Lower glades before hitting the Humphreys Trail.
Lower glades before hitting the Humphreys Trail.

Will this be the last chance for good skiing? Or will we see another big event in March?

 

Powder skiing in the Kachina Peaks

After a fairly unusual late Fall and early Winter—in which we were far more likely to have rain than snow—”Real Winter”showed up and made a powerful statement. The six-day storm total for snow in Flagstaff was 36+ inches which allowed this event to slip into the Top 10 multi-day snow events.

The downside to such an event, of course, is dealing with snow removal. No sooner would we clear the driveway and sidewalks than a snow plow would throw a 3 to 4 foot berm of hard snow on the driveway. Sigh. Does this qualify as a “Sisyphean Task?”

Driveway and sidewalk are cleared. But what about the street?
Driveway and sidewalk are cleared. But what about the street?

Enough work. Time for play. And so we headed for the San Francisco Peaks and the Kachina Wilderness for some backcountry skiing. The peaks received in the neighborhood of 7–8 feet of new snow. Dreams of deep powder motivated us!

Breaking trail through new snow on the lower sections of Humphreys Peak Trail.
Breaking trail through new snow on the lower sections of Humphreys Peak Trail.

We arrived at the Arizona Snowbowl ski area lower parking lot and headed towards the Humphreys Peak Trail. We broke trail through the deep snow—and only veered off the trail once—for about a mile before picking up an established ski track from downhill skiers. This provided a much easier route. We broke off from the trail and followed a set of ski tracks up to the area known as Flying Dutchman.

Powder! And no other skiers. At least, not yet!
Powder! And no other skiers. At least, not yet!

This area had already seen a fair bit of ski activity and the snow cover was carved up. We wanted fresh powder so we continued up through the trees—once again breaking trail through deep snow. The trees vary here from tightly packed to open glades and skiing down requires navigating from open glade to open glade and minimizing the trees. Easy to say—harder to do.

Heavy riming on the trees.
Heavy riming on the trees.

We continued up to the B-24 bomber crash site where we decided to stop. Above this point the trees thin out quickly and the threat of skier-triggered avalanches was present. We had lunch, peeled climbing skins off our skis and headed down. We had gained almost 2100 vertical feet since leaving the car and it was time to convert all that potential energy into kinetic energy.

Rime coats the landing strut of the B-24.
Rime coats the landing strut of the B-24.
This image from 2013 shows the landing strut without rime.
This image from 2013 shows the landing strut without rime.

At this elevation (~11,400 feet) there had been significant riming on the trees. So much rime had accumulated on the branches and needles that the trees looked like large heads of cauliflower. Rime had also accumulated on the upside-down landing gear of the B-24. This is the only piece of wreckage that is visible in the winter. Everything else is buried.

View towards Arizona Snowbowl and, in the distance, Camp Navajo.
View towards Arizona Snowbowl and, in the distance, Camp Navajo.
Tree fall above the trail. Numerous trees toppled in the major windstorm on December 16, 2016, when winds exceeded 80 mph on the peaks.
Tree fall above the trail. Numerous trees toppled in the major windstorm on December 16, 2016, when winds exceeded 80 mph on the peaks.

There are not many pictures of the downhill descent. Too much fun to stop and take photos!