Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Steep backcountry skiing in the Tablelands of Western Newfoundland

 by Keith and Heather Nicol

Andrew Stokes stands on large chunk of cornice debris
Close up of some of the avalanche debris
On Tuesday, April 23 the weather forecast predicted sunny skies and temperatures reaching 9 C in Corner Brook so a group of us decided to head to Gros Morne National Park to explore some of the steep couloir skiing into Winterhouse Brook Gorge.  Winterhouse Brook Gorge is adjacent to the popular “Tablelands Bowl” which attracts skiers and riders from across Newfoundland and beyond for late season skiing. This area is located between the communities of Woody Point and Trout River and there is a turn off and large parking lot giving quick access to the mountains. We were also interested in checking out the snow stability and likely cornice fall that had been associated with the previous weekend’s double digit temperatures (it reached 17 C in Corner Brook on Saturday). As we skinned into the bowl we could see the results of 2 large avalanches that had occurred since our last visit to the bowl on Tuesday, April 16 (see previous post). These recent avalanches were on the eastern side of the bowl and were likely the result of 2 events-fresh snow on Wednesday, April 17 which slid shortly after the storm. This avalanche was quite extensive and covered quite abit of the eastern side of the bowl. But more impressive was the cornice fall and resulting slab avalanche that was likely produced during Saturday’s very warm temperatures. Some of these chucks were easily the size of cars and the debris, although less extensive than Wednesday’s avalanche, was piled much deeper. You wouldn’t have wanted to be hit by either avalanche but Saturday’s avalanche would have been deadly for anyone in its path. 
Andrew Stokes drops into "Lunchbox Chutes"

      After investigating the avalanche debris we headed to across a sloping bench to access the chutes leading down into Winterhouse Brook Gorge. On Tuesday these slopes had been sitting in the sun and whereas the bowl had crusty frozen snow, the chutes held softening corn snow. The local name for this area is the “Lunchbox Chutes” and although the run started off fairly wide it constricted to a narrow slot between 2 rocks before opening out again. The slope was very steep but the soft snow meant that your edges bit into it giving good control. Andrew Stokes dropped in first and quite a bit of sluff followed him down the slope. We all followed suit and it was definitely my most exciting run in quite awhile. The snow extended just about to Winterhouse Brook in the valley floor and over all the vertical drop was about 280 meters. We alternately skinned and boot packed back to the top of the chute. We rested for a short time on the rocks in a spectacular spot with rugged Winterhouse Brook Gorge on one side and the blue waters of Bonne Bay and Gros Morne Mountain in the distance. While most of the group headed off to check out another chute I skied back to the bowl to take some more photos of the avalanche debris before skiing back down to the parking lot. For anyone heading into the bowl be aware of very warm temperatures that might bring down more cornice breaks and avalanches. 
View back to Bonne Bay and Gros Morne Mountain

At the end of the run in Winterhouse Brook Gorge 

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