Matt Zaffino's Outdoors

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by Matt Zaffino

Bio | Email | Follow: @Zaffino

Posted on January 7, 2008 at 10:55 AM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 4 at 2:36 PM

Just thought I'd say a bit about my new blog space. I'll be posting bits here about my traipses through the Northwest, and wherever, but my hope is that this site evolves into more of a community site for those who share my passion for outdoor activities. Got some cool pics of a recent ski trip, run, hike, or rafting trip? Post 'em here. Want to get the word out about a new bike race? Got a new pair of running shoes that kill your feet and you want spare others the pain and expense? This is a spot where you can help get the word out and share your experiences. I also hope to get some local experts to blog here, to add more insight and information to everyone in the recreational community. And oh yeah, the weather. There's bound to be blogs that geek out on that too. Sorry, I just know I won't be able to help myself. But there's synergy there... the intersection of weather and the outdoors is broad, and this time of year, it's coated with snow.

On New Year's Eve Lisa, Xena and I did a little x-c skiing on a neighbor's Christmas tree farm. I gotta admit, skiing mere minutes from home was pretty cool! Mt Rainier and Mt St Helens loom in the dusky background.

Xena's not as vicious as she looks, she just likes to run! In my experience stop motion photography often catches dogs in Cujo-mode.

Xena's in this shot too. The snowpack is about 18". For an elevation of about 1400 feet, that's not bad! The tree farm owner has lanes cut in his trees, which made for some nice lines.

Sunday, January 6th, South Side of Mt St Helens.


We parked at the Marble Mountain Snow-Park, and headed out on a little tour. A lot of x-c skiers don't like this trailhead because it's heavily used by snow-mobilers. But through the smoke of those two-cycle engines, emerges an opportunity for skiers and snow-mobilers to interact.


And hopefully see that we share something: a desire to get out and enjoy the snow. We just have different methods.


Hey it's not like we have to share (here, anyway) the trails. Can't we all just get along? But that's fodder for future blogs. Back to skiing!


Yes, Xena is wearing booties. Snow tends to ball up between her toes, so she patiently let me strap these suckers on her paws. She threw them off a few times, but I finally got the hang of strapping them on tightly. After a few seconds she forgot about them and they sort of acted like little snow shoes. It was cool to watch her run with them. When I take her backpacking in summer, I always bring her booties, in case she cuts a pad or hurts a foot.


Friends Phil and Gina (Philina) enjoy the heavily falling snow. Gina's a rookie and she did great. See, she's smiling! Phil has more patience than any man alive. Not that he needed it... :)

Danger Zone

Check out the fracture line in the snow. A small avalanche left evidence of the unstable snowpack currently in the Cascades. As I write this, an Avalanche Warning is up for Tuesday for dangerous back-country conditions. This slide was next to the Swift Creek Trail we were on. We weren't in danger at this point, the slope above us was small and had already slid. But a bit higher, the small slope expanded into a bigger one on the right side of a gully that led to where we wanted to go.

Terrain trap! Even though it had mostly slid, I felt it was unsafe to ski because if it slid again, even though the slope was only about 50 yards high, it could release enough snow to bury a skier in the gully. Gully skiing makes me nervous.... I generally avoid it unless I know the snowpack is bomber (very stable). Here's a nice little poem by Mark Moore of the Northwest Avalanche Forecast Center (NWAC), that describes the current snowpack:

Slow down and listen, this ain’t no jive-
You’ve got to ratchet things back to stay alive.
Shooting cracks on the slope, whomps on the ridge-
We’ve got no strong crusts to act as a bridge.
The only crusts we’ve got are faceted and weak-
And loaded by even more snow as we speak.
Settlement is coming but not fast enough-
And it’s hard to focus with all of that fluff.
So whatever your sport, whatever your skill,
Be avalanche aware or else you it will kill.

Moore has done great work at the NWAC for years, and apparently he's quite the poet. I highly recommend you check their avalanche conditions forecast before heading out into the back-country.

Beauty Shot!

I'll end with this.. snow piling on fir trees. Gotta love the Cascades when it dumps like this. And it will all week. See, I'm weather-geeking out already. Thanks for reading my blog, and I'd love to see your comments.

Happy Trails,

Matt Zaffino
KGW Chief Meteorologist