A summary article and photographs from Mount Shasta Avalanche Center, looking back on its 2016/17 season, during which 137 daily advisories were published at: www.shastaavalanche.org
The US Forest Service Mount Shasta Avalanche Center finished its 19th season of operation. The region experienced one of the wettest winters on record, with Mount Shasta City receiving 56.81” of water (normal 37.16”) between Oct. 1, 2016 and April 17, 2017. This put Mt. Shasta City at 153% of normal.
The significant statewide precipitation received this winter season ended California’s five-year drought. Many areas in California experienced the wettest season on record.
Although Mt. Shasta did not break the record books, it was certainly a winter to remember. A few large early season storms in mid-October laid down a solid snowpack in areas above 7,000 feet and made for some of the best early season skiing and riding conditions in years. The winter really turned on by early December, and the advisory area rarely went longer than a week without receiving precipitation through April.
Three skiers caught in avalanches, no fatalities
One of the most impressive avalanches on Mount Shasta occurred on Dec. 17, two days after a storm deposited 20 inches of snow and 2 inches of SWE in a 48-hour period. A major NW wind event occurred from the 14th to 17th of December, and was very productive in loading SE aspects.
In the early morning hours on the 17th, a natural wind slab avalanche occurred off of Casaval Ridge. The avalanche was 1,500 feet wide, ran for 2,000 feet, and put 20 to 30 feet of debris on Lake Helen, a popular camp for climbers in Avalanche Gulch.
That same afternoon, two skiers triggered and were caught in the Sun Bowl avalanche, a popular ski run on the south side of Mt. Shasta. The skiers were carried 800 vertical feet down open terrain. The two people involved were not carrying any rescue gear and were incredibly lucky to have not been buried in the avalanche. The MSAC forecasters were able to respond to the scene of the avalanche within 30 minutes of the 911 call. Upon arrival, both skiers were found on top of the snow and uninjured, bringing a wave of relief.
Thankfully, there were no avalanche fatalities within our avalanche advisory area during the 2016-17 season. Three skiers were caught in avalanches this season in two separate incidents. The other avalanche incident occurred in early March at Castle Lake and involved a solo skier who was caught and carried 100 vertical feet into trees becoming partially buried but uninjured.
Largest storm of season in January
January brought the largest storm event of the season. For seven days starting on the 17th, areas above 6,000 feet received 7 to 9 feet of snow. This period brought the most widespread avalanche cycle of the season. Mount Shasta City picked up 4 to 5 feet of snow and exhausted all snow removal efforts for local plows. The storm closed the primary backcountry recreation trailheads in the area for over a month, limiting access.
February was characterized by smaller storms and regular avalanche activity. A notable natural, wet loose avalanche ran and triggered a storm slab avalanche on a steep slope above Castle Lake. The flowing avalanche debris hit Castle Lake and fractured the lake ice.
The snow kept falling in March and April with bursts of sunny spring weather in-between storms. Towards the tail end of the season, avalanche events became far less destructive. The corn skiing came in waves, and the powder skiing continued. Coverage on the mountain is looking great and we are gearing up for an amazing climbing season here on Mount Shasta.
Outreach, education and growth
The MSAC had three employees this season, the most number of employees the Avalanche Center has ever had.
Nick Meyers returned for his 8th season as the Director and Lead Forecaster. Andrew Kiefer filled a USFS position as a second full time Avalanche Forecaster. Aaron Beverly started with the MSAC this season as well, filling a part time Professional Observer position funded by the Friends of the Mount Shasta Avalanche Center.
A total of 137 daily advisories were published on our website, www.shastaavalanche.org, between Dec. 1 and April 16.
The outreach and educational components of the avalanche center kept us hopping this year. The Mount Shasta Avalanche Center delivered 27 avalanche presentations reaching 567 people throughout northern California and southern Oregon this season.
The MSAC provided four basic avalanche awareness and companion rescue clinics. There were several internal Forest Service employee avalanche trainings focusing on basic avalanche awareness and rescue. A training was also given to the Crater Lake National Park Ski Patrol and local school groups including the Mount Shasta High School Ski Team. One full day, snowmobile specific avalanche awareness and companion rescue workshop was hosted in February. An additional 708 people were reached through our climbing specific REI presentations in Sacramento and the Bay Area.
The MSAC website experienced noticeable growth in the number of users and page visits this season. The number of website users for the 2016-17 winter was 32,782, an increase of 8,138 users, or 33% growth compared to the 2015-16 season. There were 83,829 website sessions this season, and the average session duration was 2 minutes and 13 seconds. Of website visitors, 62% were returning while 38% were new.
Friends of the Avalanche Center going strong
The Friends of the Mount Shasta Avalanche Center, created in 2002, is essential to our operations and going strong. The Friends fund the MSAC website and all of our remote weather stations. They organize all fundraising events, including the Backcountry Ascension Race and the Annual Snow Ball party and help with the education and outreach components of the avalanche center.
The Shasta Trinity National Forest funded 32% of the MSAC’s total operating costs for the 2016-17 season. The MSAC was awarded a CA state OHV grant (other agency cash) that provided 41% of the total cost for this season, and the FMSAC funded 27%. The group represents the soul of adventure and passion for backcountry mountain recreation in the greater Mount Shasta area. We could not do our work without the Friends and local community and extend a huge thank you for all of their effort and support this season.