Mammoth is known for its wind. Sometimes this produces awesome wind blown snow affectionately known by locals as “the buff”. The buff is basically fine snow with a buttery texture that gets naturally filled in by the wind making for amazing skiing, often with fresh tracks every run. However sometimes the wind will scour a slope out back to hard pack or ice leaving it with a moon scape texture which isn’t that great to ski. A lot of the time it depends on wind direction as to where will be good and where will be bad so local knowledge helps in seeking out the buff.
I got talking about wind because we had a storm roll in last night that came with a lot of wind but unfortunately not much snow. The bad news with this storm too is that it has an easterly component to it which produces less buff and more moon scape. Winds from the east basically strip the mountain of snow and blow it over to Fresno. It is pretty much the last thing we needed right now with a minimal snow pack so far this year.
Ski Patrol reported the winds at the top of Mammoth to be in excess of 150 miles per hour (hurricane force), that is as far as their instruments will measure so it could have been more! here is a neat graph showing the speeds from last night.
I ventured up the hill this morning to see what was going on and to pick up some pay checks. It was blowing pretty strong and I was surprised to see snow making going. Here are a few shots from this morning.
Other than stripping the snow there are a few hazards that the wind can produce, obviously with all the snow being moved around it can form dangerous slab avalanches where it settles. Another hazard is driving with snow blowing on the road and obscuring visibility.
At Mount Hutt (New Zealand) this is a particularly dangerous problem as there are no trees to provide reference to the ground once the snow starts blowing about. I’ve also been on the Mount Hutt road when the wind has picked up rocks the size of large marbles which smashed the windows out on several vehicles in our convoy, that was pretty scary. In the video below you can see how quickly visibility can diminish to a few feet with blowing snow.
So wind can be our friend at Mammoth as it usually comes with snow and produces the legendary buff, but it can also be damaging and dangerous and deserves our respect.