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Digging into the Corn: Local notables, trail work and the science of snow 

We have been fortunate this year to have the snowflakes fall... and fall... and fall some more. So much snow has fallen, in fact, that seldom skied areas have seen tracks in the past month. Ralph Tadday and others made turns on Pilot Butte.

click to enlarge Skiing on Broken Top -- South Sister and her covered moraine in the background.
  • Skiing on Broken Top -- South Sister and her covered moraine in the background.
Skiing on Broken Top -- South Sister and her covered moraine in the background.Spring Corn

We have been fortunate this year to have the snowflakes fall... and fall... and fall some more. So much snow has fallen, in fact, that seldom skied areas have seen tracks in the past month. Ralph Tadday and others made turns on Pilot Butte. Mike McLandress and Guy Giffin skied Lava Butte on Super Bowl Sunday, and many of you have tracked up your favorite slopes all across Central Oregon.


Snow also has the wonderful capacity to transform from powder to corn in a matter of a few days; given the right conditions. Complex, individual snowflakes are in a very high energy state upon reaching the ground and don't last long in their pretty shapes. When skiing fresh, blower powder this winter, you have likely been skiing in snow close to its original state. Over time, the sharp, intricate edges round off and slowly the snowflakes take on a more spherical shape. Depending on many different factors, these spheres may or may not begin to stick, or agglomerate together. When they do, the snow becomes a solid, cohesive unit. A period of warm sunny days followed by cold, clear nights - as we saw last week - transforms the powder into a solid surface. As the sun's rays warm this solid surface, it starts to soften and can create 'corn snow.'

This week the corn gods spoke and another magical corn cycle set up to my wonderment. I love corn snow - possibly even more than powder. The solid surface allows for easy travel in the backcountry. The buttery smooth turns are like nothing else. Well, except possibly a knee-deep powder field of freshly fallen stellar dendrites. On Saturday, I skied two sweet lines on Broken Top, spending the entire day out with four friends. The warm, sunny, calm conditions were welcomed after a couple months of pounding storms. The depth of the snow pack is evident when looking out onto the moraine below South Sister. The refrigerator-sized lava rocks, typically protruding through the snow, are almost completely covered. Also, the street signs along Century Drive barely protrude up near Dutchman Flat and the outhouse is nearly underground. On Sunday, I skied the Thayer Glacier Headwall on North Sister. More on that next week.

A word on fresh snow

Snow crystals fall ever so softly and gently to the ground. Stellar dendrites, sectored plates, hollow columns, needles, spatial dendrites, and rimed crystals are a few classifications. The crystal forms from a spec of dust high above in the atmosphere. A water droplet forms around the dust particle and freezes into a hexagonal prism. This creates the beginning of a six-sided snow flake. Water vapor surrounding the prism condenses onto the edges of the prism initiating the incredibly complex creation. The temperature and amount of water vapor surrounding the growing flake determine the size and structure. The next time you are out in a snow storm, stop and take a minute to collect a few flakes in your gloved hand and take a look.

Tommy Ford heads to U.S. Junior Worlds

Hats off to local alpine shredder Tommy Ford for earning a spot on the Junior World Team. He will compete in the Alpine Junior World Championships at the end of the month in Spain. It has been great to see Tommy, an MBSEF racer, climb up through the ranks the past several years and grow to become one of the best junior alpine ski racers in the country. Good luck in Spain, Tommy!

Jane Meissner Retires

Many outdoor enthusiasts in the area know the name Jane Meissner. Literally hundreds of others have been fortunate enough to witness her teaching skills and love for the outdoors first-hand in one of her hiking, cross country skiing, or snowshoeing classes. She has taught outdoor education/community learning courses at COCC since 1988 and has decided to retire. Pine Mountain Sports is hosting an event at 7pm Thursday, Feb. 28 to honor and thank Jane for turning so many people onto the wonderful world of outdoor recreation. Call Pine Mountain Sports for more details at 385-8080.

Trail Work

Congress has drastically cuty trail maintenance funds over the past two decades, making it essential for volunteers to help maintain our trails.

If you're interested in learning how you can help, two free trainings this spring will teach you the requisite skills. Details can be found at the web link here: The first training session takes place May 16-18 at the Westridge School near Oakridge. The second weekend is scheduled for May 30- June 1 at the Allingham Guard Station located west of Sisters, near Camp Sherman.

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