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Giving the finger

Tim Mutrie

Wind slab, breakable crust, dust on crust and powder, and rocks, stumps, twigs and treetops, and, in places along the Highlands ridge traverse, sheep sh-t. That’s right, bighorn sheep poop.A tour out beyond Highland Peak to Five Fingers Bowl yesterday had it all – even evidence of elk behaving like Highlands ski patrollers, judging by vast “hoof-packed” areas at lower elevations.Another recon mission led by Aspen Expeditions head guide Amos Whiting revealed conditions in line with the current Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) forecast for the central mountains, including the Aspen area. The CAIC is calling for moderate avalanche danger with pockets of considerable danger.Whiting, who spends much of the winter guiding clients in the Highlands backcountry, was thoughtful with his line selection yesterday. He elected to go with one that’s connected by a series of benches and sheltered from adjacent avalanche starting zones, one that wends delightfully through ever-more-towering stands of Douglas fir down 4,000 vertical feet.”In general I was pleasantly surprised,” Whiting said. “I think we still have a good chance at a good backcountry year.”There’s still plenty of wind slabs over weak faceted layers and the trick is to avoid ’em, avoid that terrain. If you get into the wrong terrain, you’re going to see slabs move. … We picked the right terrain.”Apart from a couple small, soft-snow sloughs, Whiting’s foursome didn’t kick off anything yesterday; there was no cracking or whoompfing, either. Not that Five Fingers, or any other popular backcountry routes, is seeing much traffic.”There’s no new load on the snowpack and with a weekend of warming, it did a lot of good in stabilizing some of the surface slabs and taking a lot of the energy out of the snowpack,” Whiting said. “But what it also did is make those slabs more dense, and they’re still sitting on top of sugary facets below.”In “On the Hill” news, Two Creeks and Elk Camp at Snowmass are scheduled to open Friday.