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skiing hard flat slabs

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 
This week I was skiing my local Tahoe ski area that has elevations between 8k and 10k. A week or two ago were some big storms that dropped several feet of dry snow. Then a few days ago an unusual strong east wind blew a couple days leaving all the upper exposed slopes weird sastrugi. The resort has a number of winch cat groomed steep runs that were apparently groomed on the weekend before the winds started. All those steep runs were hammered by the winds and became slabs of flat hard firmpack that are now a pain to edge on. A number of the slopes that were groomed have been virtually deserted because they are so difficult to edge on with our usual Western skis.

Skiing hard flat groomed slabs is nothing new. I can remember skiing Ajax two decades ago and every time I went down Spar Gulch would have to negotiate a large area of flat slabs where several trails merged at the bottom, near the top of the Little Nell Lift. Such slopes form on both steep and low gradients particularly in windy spots. The key thing seems to be that the force of wind packs blowing little broken snow crystals into every tiny space between the snowpack thus making for dense hard icy snow. One most frequently sees such snow right at the top of ridge lines where groomed trails descend. Often there are long steep plates of these flat slabs. Well tuned firmer skis tend to negotiate the slabs without slipping much but one would not describe the skiing experience as pleasant unless one is a ski racer with razor sharp ski edges. Not all these slabby areas are equally icy hard or edgeable of course so one cannot talk about skiing such slopes with skill unless qualifying it with "how hard and icy". Such slopes usually are a mix of the hard flat slabs and patches or mounds of loose snow. And it is the loose snow that the rest of us learn to ski towards from mound to mound at times.

Most resorts will rototill up the top of such snow and then groom nice packed powder cordoroy rills atop it. Early skiers each day get to ski the corduroy but that quickly gets skied off leaving the hard slabs below. The thin layer of loose snow the groomers had evened out on the slope then becomes concentrated in mounds and patches that most skiers seek out. The loose snow often sloughs down the slabs in thin layers that good skiers also use to help hold their edges. The only cure is a good dump of new snow that buries the hard layers. Fortunately our resort gets a lot of snow so that is usually just days away.

Personally I have never liked the hard firmpack slabs though realise some that like skiing fast and racing do. It requires skiing with skis I don't use and have no interest in because they are not where my fun is at. I don't mind resort's grooming steep runs but in some cases they just become fields of these hard slabs instead of a beautiful field of small to medium moguls I prefer. I'm wondering what the rest of this community thinks about the flat firmpack slabs?
post #2 of 12
Folks in the midwest and east call that "packed powder."
post #3 of 12
Wind pack is not the only way to form such super hard slabs. High traffic areas in Eastern resorts lead to such conditions. If your skis are not reasonably sharp, your only hope is to maintain a controled slide until you hit something softer.

I HATE these rock hard conditions.
post #4 of 12
Current conditions are very chaulky and hard near the ridges. The 6 Stars like this condition better than my Mantras. The winds last Sunday and Monday swept away all traces of powder and piled it into very cohesive wind slab. Its actually so hard, it is difficult to cut with a backcountry shovel to test layers below. In spite of loading earlier in the week, avy risk is generally low here. http://www.sierraavalanchecenter.org/today.html

Watch out for a series of warmer storms next week
post #5 of 12
Sounds EPIC to me!

Have that same slope skied over by 10,000 people, most of whom side slip across it, then have the temperature go up to above freezing then drop to -20 celcius. Then you get typical eastern late Jan/early Feb bullet proof ice conditions.

Those types of conditions are what make carving and all mountain big sidecut skiis so great now.

I used to slide and scrape my way down blue ice runs for a month before the good snow of late feb/early march would come.

Now, with a decent pair of shape skiis you can actually carve that stuff.

Sounds to me like you need a bigger ski quiver.
post #6 of 12

are you referring to Kirkwood ?
post #7 of 12
I personally love that stuff...the Allstars rip it to shreds.
I of course prefer deep powder but am not in the least bit picky.
post #8 of 12
Carvers and a light edge.
post #9 of 12
That is my preferred terrain. Get a race ski, you won't be sorry if you have solid skills.
post #10 of 12
Spend a season on the east coast and "sharpen" those skills
post #11 of 12
What: , you mean there is something besides ice to ski on: ?
post #12 of 12
Originally Posted by Ghost
What: , you mean there is something besides ice to ski on: ?
Not lately, but this will change. Feb is going to be good...because I said so!
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