Mahogany Ridge: Avalanche Prep and Opening Insights

This past weekend through Christmas, we had a classic Steamboat surprise. What was supposed to be a 6–8-inch storm wound up dropping over two feet of snow at our mid-mountain snow stake. Now with mid-mountain nearing a 40-inch base depth, all eyes have turned towards Mahogany Ridge, Steamboat’s newly expanded terrain pod for the 2023/2024 season. Like the terrain off the top of Mt. Werner, Mahogany Ridge has several zones with nuanced expert and extreme terrain, including cliffs, chutes, and steeps. While this will soon be some of the most fun and exhilarating terrain for our expert skiers and riders, it also brings with it the possibility for avalanches and the need to mitigate avalanche risk. Now that this new terrain is included within the resort’s boundary and part of our Forest Service Permit, the resort has a new responsibility to mitigate conditions, which takes quite a bit of work before it is safe and ready for the public to ride. To get a better idea of how our Ski Patrol and Mountain Ops teams are working together to mitigate this new terrain, we spoke with Matt Hartsel, a Level 3 Ski Patroller and Avalanche Team Leader here at Steamboat. We discussed the terrain on Mahogany Ridge in relation to the rest of the mountain, as well as the work being done to open it and the rationale behind it.  

How will avalanche mitigation in Mahogany Ridge work? 

Multiple crews will start at the top and work their way down throwing hand charges below them to move larger sections of snow. Once we feel the snow is more stable, we will move to ski cutting and pocket avalanches in the trees. We expect to start these efforts after the first of the year. 

We received 27 inches of snow earlier this week, why isn’t Mahogany Ridge open yet? 

Although we’ve seen a good amount of snowfall in December, conditions are still thin in this steep terrain with a lot of very angular and jagged talus rock that requires more snow coverage to make it safe.  
What is different about opening Mahogany Ridge from the rest of our terrain?  
The terrain in this area is very much in a natural state. It hasn’t been mitigated with chainsaw work on fallen trees and brush to prevent erosion in the Fish Creek Watershed. There are no cut runs and there are a large number of rocks/boulders, cliffs, and the angle of the terrain is much steeper. This is also the first time we’re opening this terrain with it under our permit boundary with new responsibility under our permit with the USFS. The lowest portion of the terrain is at a much lower elevation than most of our terrain which means it is warmer and gets less snowfall and requires more coverage. 
Why is it important that people respect the current closures?  
Beyond thin conditions, Patrol could be out there doing avalanche control with explosives at any time and that could be very dangerous. This creates a hazard for our teams when skiers and riders are in places where are aren’t expecting them to be. Trails are closed for a reason.  
Why are Forest Service gates closed? 
Because they can lead you back into inbound areas that are currently closed, specifically the canyon, which is now in our permit boundary area. As soon as the return access is opened, the gates will also be opened.  
We are offering Forest Service, out of bounds access via Gate 1 and at the bottom of Morningside, but there is a considerable hike out. It is the responsibility of skiers and riders to know what areas are inbounds and what areas are out of bounds, and respect andy inbounds closures.  
What can happen if I poach the area prior to opening? 
Other than risk of personal injury, there are penalties under the skier safety act which can also include fines and loss of ski access for an extended period. It also puts an extreme risk on our teams who may be out there conducting avalanche mitigation work and puts their safety at risk when terrain is poached prior to opening. 

It’s important to remember that this is consequential terrain, and that even after mitigation work is finished and the area is open to the public, you should ski within your ability level and always ski with a partner. Even with all our new snow, this area is steep and technical and unmarked obstacles can exist throughout the season. Many skiers and riders are used to skiing this terrain on their own terms, but that has changed and now we all need to respect the closures in place. Until these new areas open to the public, understand that access via trails, gates, etc. may be closed using signs, ropes and bamboo and closures are in place as Patrol will be using explosive measures to mitigate potential avalanche hazard. With all this being said, there is so much excitement and anticipation regarding the opening of Mahogany Ridge and our patrons are chomping at the bit to explore the new extreme terrain. Skiers and riders who know how to navigate the most extreme skiing and riding conditions will find fantastic steep shots, cliff drops and glades as far as the eye can see. With a lot of hard work from our patrol and mountain operations teams, we are getting close to riding an additional 650+ acres of terrain, that has previously been out of resort bounds. Get excited Steamboat faithful, the wait for Mahogany Ridge is almost over. Cheers! 

by Jackson Grabill