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February 20-21, 2003, Paradise

WA Cascades West Slopes South (Mt Rainier)
Posted by Charles on 2/21/03 5:36am
Well, the forecast sounded good: lots of new snow, FL dropping to over 3000' below our elevation. So Rick and I headed up to Mazama Ridge to make camp and prepare for 3 days of great skiing. The reality: wet, avalanchy, wet, poor skiing, wet, generally unpleasant.

We got soaked by the snowfall just getting to camp, and with almost non-stop snow thereafter and no cooling, we never had a chance to dry out. We got warm digging a platform into a snow roll, then got cold setting up the tent, so decided to get warm by enjoying a run down the Mazama west slopes. First turn set off a 8-12" soft slab on a short ~35 degree west-facing windward slope right at the top of Mazama Ridge. It appeared that the bed surface was at the top of the big snowfall from last weekend. The rest of the run consisted mostly of trying to stay on top of the denser new snow layer, but mostly submarining into the 15" of lower density snow beneath, then flailing around to extricate our skis and/or right ourselves. We did get warm, though. Back at camp, dinner, more getting wet, more getting cold, laps up and down the hills near camp to get warm (skins on both directions), then into the warmth of the sleeping bags.

It snowed about 12" overnight, and was still snowing, blowing, and not cooling off in the morning, so we bailed. With an additional foot of dense snow, submarining was no longer a problem coming off Mazama Ridge, but we still managed to get our remaining dry clothes soaked by the time we reached the car. We got to wait for about 21/2 hours for the road to be opened, which gave us plenty of time to get warm again by shoveling out the car. As Rick said, more than once, "This is hypothermia weather."
Charles Good report about whats going on up there with all this snow. Was thinking it might have been cooler despite the telemetry readings. How far did the slab seem to run that you setoff. Did you see many other skiers out and any other signs of instability??.

Guess it worked that I skipped the trip, course I've been busy after the phone call wed night "your boats taken on water you better come down to look at it" !!


It didn't run far - just to the bottom of the ~30' steepest part right at the top of Mazama Ridge. It piled up on a little shelf with trees. Only the bottom half of the slab actually slid to the bottom; the top half slid a few inches as a unit but then stopped, poised above the slightly steeper bottom part of the slope and leaving a crack at its top edge that went ~30' across the slope.

It was pretty clear that conditions were not too stable. Just skinning up Mazama toward camp we could see the cohesive nature of the top layer and its tendency to fracture into blocks around our track. There was lots of wind and lots of firm windpack on top of Mazama Ridge (made for easy skinning!). We looked into Back Bowl but even the gentlest entrance had been getting a lot of snow blown into it, plus we were cold and didn't want to have to deal with skins before we had been able to warm up some.

We saw no other people aside from in the parking lot, but did meet some skiers while getting our permit who were going to camp at Reflection Lakes and ski the Tatoosh.

Have you been able to rescue your boat?


  Wow, that story sounds hardcore! I give you an A for your efforts. And good work on digging the car!


Well, as my friend Nick would say, "at least you got out!"  Are we to conclude that the telemetry at Paradise is unreliable?  Thanks for the blow by blow.

MikeyB - I think the telemetry data was actually shown to be pretty accurate. It showed that while we were there the temp stayed in the 29-32 degree range and about 2.0" of water equivalent came down. I think those two things explain our wetness. The telemetry shows that it didn't start cooling off until about 6pm the day we left. Yes, we got out, and I'm glad we weren't  5 miles in!

Darin - hard, even if not hardcore. But it was good to be reminded about how all that frozen water we enjoy skiing through the summer gets there in the first place, and at this point in the season, lots of dense wet snow is really what we need anyway, isn't it?

I'd agree with that. Looks like we're into some good skiing conditons the next few days.....


Wow!  Where exactly was that slab?  Are you talking above Edith Basin?  Or the ridge to the west of Sluiskin?We skied Mazama Sat and Sun.  On Sat we went  up to the back bowl (standard route to right of creek, switch back up) and skied it 3 times then the front twice from Sluiskin Creek halfway across.  Wonderful snow! Wind-affected powder, eminently skiable, very stable.  Sunday we skied the front all over (4x for me) then over to the first steep glade above Paradise Valley Road--sweet powder, I skied it 2x, tore a forearm muscle the 2nd time, and the other skied it 3x.  Never uncountered anything unstable at all!!  :) ???

Andy - the slab was at the very top of the west-facing slopes of Mazama Ridge - probably what you are calling the "front" - right below the fringe of trees which runs along the whole west edge of Mazama Ridge.  It was probably about 100 yards to skier's left (south) of the standard uptrack/trail on the "front". The run would naturally lead right down to the Paradise valley road. I'm glad that things had become more stable for you!

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2003-02-21 13:36:36