Observation: Hatcher Pass

Location: NE Ridge Government Peak

Route & General Observations

We toured from Skeetawk and gained the NE ridge of Government Peak with aspirations to ski one of the big lines on the NE face of Government. We turned around right before the ridge became exposed to a few nasty start zones over a valley that funnels into a terrain trap due to a change in the snowpack and some surprising results with multiple ECTs . All ECTs were done on the SE aspect at 3800 feet . We ended up skiing a couple shorter north lines off the ridge and back to Skeetawk via an east-facing shoulder.

Weather & Snow Characteristics
Please provide details to help us determine the weather and snowpack during the time this observation took place.

Beautiful. Calm wind, sunny.

Snow surface

Widespread surface hoar on all aspects and at all elevations where we traveled.


We began noticing that the snowpack was shallower and had less support under our skis as soon as we left the east aspects at the ridgtop and started traveling on the southeast aspects. We noticed that our communication about the changes was intensifying and began investigating every twenty feet with handpits. The slab had lacked cohesion on the eastern aspects but on the more southerly aspects it readily moved as we pulled on it with moderate hand shears. We also noticed that the snowpack was suddenly much shallower, had pronounced facets about 30cm down and a stout ice crust on the ground. It is worth noting that we skied this area yesterday to scout the snowpack on both northern and eastern aspects and did not find anything close to this structure.

We were about to push up the last 300 feet of the ridge to the peak and it was going to force us onto a couple start zones that appeared to be in the 35-40 degree range with a runout that was going to leave us in a nasty terrain trap if we took a ride. So we decided to do an ECT.

As soon as we dug our pit, the slab of rounds over facets was obvious. Snow depth was 77cm, which is half of what we'd seen on the eastern aspects. It included (from top to bottom) about 30cm of rounds becoming more cohesive in the sun, 1cm crust, 15cm facets, 2cm crust, 30cm basal facets on top of a ground-level ice crust.

The result of our first test was ECTP2. We were shocked. It popped like a cash register and failed below the 1cm crust beneath the rounds. We moved five feet to the right and got an ECTN22 due to a wind layer that fortified the structure. Unsatisfied, we moved five feet to the left of our first pit and got an ECTP16 (see video).

We had both already decided to spin before our tests due to the structure but seeing these results made us think of the surprising slide that happened on Marmot last week with an otherwise right-side-up snowpack.

Photos & Video
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