Nothing is certain and a lot can change in three weeks, but right now conditions for the Bob Open are shaping up to be as or more challenging than they’ve been, for any years of the formal event or for the two years prior when I did solo trips that weekend.
Compared to three weeks ago the Badger Pass Snotel hasn’t moved down much, in spite of some fairly sunny weather. It does seem to have topped off a good bit lower than 2014, when on the ground conditions (though not weather) were the toughest of any year between 2010 and 2016. Depending on daily temps the next three weeks, I expect mid-altitude snow cover to be anything from truly extensive to merely abundant.
What ground me down so thoroughly the first day in 2014 was the many miles of slowish, ankle and leg stretching snow. Temps weren’t high enough during the night to rot it out and make postholing a huge issue, but they were warm enough in the day (with a good rainstorm the first afternoon) to turn the top 2-5 inches slushy, which snowshoes or not is like walking on a slippery beach.
The bigger news is that those warmish temps the past few weeks have made the rivers absolutely massive for this time of year. Sunday morning the South Fork of the Flathead dipped above 14,000 cfs for a few hours, which was an all time record and higher than it ever got in 2016. Earlier that same morning the North Fork of the Sun bumped above 2,300 cfs, which for that small river is a lot. In either case you see seams, boils, and instawhirlpools like those shown in the above video, as well as logs and other detritus magically rising and falling within the water column. They are, in short, flows I find quite scary.
In either case there is more than enough snow left to keep and under the right conditions exceed those flows later this month. The potential exists for both floating and stream crossing conditions to be quite hazardous. It all comes down to daily temperatures in the next three weeks.
The final variable is weather. We haven’t had truly bad weather on Memorial day weekend sine 2012, though those who were out past day 4 in 2015 would disagree. Rain, and especially snow, will make things colder and potentially influence both navigation and route selection (due to avy hazard) in the later half of this years course. The die is set, with the probability of genuinely easy conditions almost nonexistent, but there is still plenty of potential for variation. You have to show up to know for sure.