Trip Report    

Backcountry Ski/Snowboard - Crown Point / Pickhandle Area

An enjoyable powder day in the Crystal backcountry.

  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • The Crystal backcountry was in outstanding condition for early season with  abundant low-density snow and good coverage all around.  The wind had kicked up in the preceding few days, making terrain selection important.  There were multiple groups comprising ~15 people total out in the Crown Point area.

Our group skinned up to Bullion Basin along the usual approach and then on to a point on the ridge that gave us a choice of terrain between skiing back down to Bullion Basin, down into the Union area, or down into the Pickhandle/Crown Peak area.  Taking stock of the snow on our way up and at the decision point, the ridges and East aspects had significant evidence of wind action and snow transport, while West aspects with more tree cover and the ridgeline for shelter were still soft, cold snow; so we elected to deviate from the initial plan of skiing in the Union area and drop into the Pickhandle area, selecting the Guns & Roses ("GnR") line due to the WSW aspect and known thin cover on AC/DC from an outing on Friday.  This was all consistent with the NWAC forecast for the day (2-2-1).

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GnR was good skiing in  down to the basin, with navigating a narrow creekbed (fun!) and tight trees (Welcome to the Jungle...) necessary at the bottom.  After discussion about what to do next, the group skinned up to Pickhandle Gap and then over Crown Point with the plan to ski Blue Bell Bowl (BBB), the next line south of GnR but with a W aspect.  The SE ridgeline ascending to Crown Point had been scoured almost to the dirt by the wind, with patches of low vegetation and bare ice intermixed with thin, brittle windboard and small drifts.  (This is consistent with an NWAC observation from nearby Cement Basin.)  The snow improved once we were over the point.  BBB was also great skiing with similar terrain to GnR, and the group settled on skiing another line above Pickhandle Gap but without going all the way over Crown Point again.

The group selected a line ("DG Sneak")  with a WNW aspect about half-way up the ridge between Pickhandle Gap and Crown Point.  Despite the lack of any obvious wind action below the ridge, the snow was a few inches of fresh or wind-blown snow over a 4-6" slabby layer that broke up in chunks (but did not propagate) under the weight of a skier.  The group proceeded cautiously down one-by-one, with each skier kicking off non-trivial but still inconsequential chunky slough, linking safer spots above tree islands and avoiding apparently thinner cover to skier's right where some thinly covered rocks were visible through the snow.  Nearly 250' down from the ridge line, one skier triggered a more significant, isolated wind slab (~400 sq ft) below his position but was not carried.  (See the NWAC observation submitted by a party member.)  Radios for clear communication were very helpful.


Looking at the terrain in 3D and the NWAC forecasts from December 2 and December 3, it seems likely that the SSE/SE winds were blew over the ridge largely unimpeded by trees and acted on this area of the slope on Friday evening and early Saturday.  (The magenta path in the image below is the GPS track for the day.)

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Returning to our skin track, the group skied out of the basin via an established (but unfortunately flat) track to the top of Gold Hills and then down to the Crystal base lodge for a debrief.