By Andrew McLean
to Writings Index
Originally published by Black Diamond Equipment
v. Of, or pertaining to the three key elements of finding good skiing
— [asp]ect, [angl]e and elev[ation]. Through careful aspanglation,
they frolicked in deep powder days after the last storm.
Good skiing almost always exists — it's just a matter of deciding what's going to be good on a certain day and where to find it. With so many variables, it helps to distill your thought process down to the essentials.
Aspect — North, south, east or west? North will hold powder (and avalanche hazards) longer, south gets more sun and will set up faster, east gets morning sun (corn) and afternoon cooling (crust) and west is just the opposite.
Angle — Mellower or steeper? In deep snow, it can be a fine line between finding something that's steep enough to turn in, yet shallow enough to be safe. Shallower slopes can be better in crusty, breakable conditions as you can stay on top of the crust. Steeper slopes can make six inches of new snow seem like it's thigh deep.
Elevation — Salvation through elevation. High elevations get more wind and can often times be blown out. They are also colder, so if there's no wind, the snow will be softer. Lower elevations are generally warmer, so they settle out faster and become supportable and/or stable sooner.
Just after a storm, consider starting out on a shallow angle, low elevation, south-facing slope. These will generally be the safest and most fleeting, with good snow lasting perhaps only through the day of the storm. As the days wear on, move up in elevation and slope angle, and start working your way more toward northern aspects. When the last bastion of powder has been exhausted (high, steep, north facing), start looking for areas that have had the most settling and will at least be supportable. Last but not least, go with the flow — don't search for powder in the middle of a corn cycle or vice versa.
So, while there's no shortage of bad snow to be skied, aspanglation is a good way to ensure that it's not you that does it. Whatever the snow conditions, don't forget your quiver of rescue tools, rescue techniques and first aid when heading into the backcountry. To increase your knowledge, check out one of the many avalanche courses offered throughout the winter. The Avalanche Forecast Centers are a great place to get the proper training and instruction — see page 31 for contact information.
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