Think of facets are more angular grains, not rounded. Rounding grains actually strengthens the snow pack. They pack tightly and form strong cohesive bonds. Facets grow and become very angular. At the bottom of the snow pack they are absolutely huge. Sugar snow. Very little to no cohesion.
Remember the big October storms we got that got everyone doing the happy dance? Well it's that storm that is now keeping the ski areas from opening their best terrain and has become the major problem in the backcountry. We got that snow and like clock work it sat there for weeks without new snow. Facets grew and it become very weak. Then the snow started in earnest and that shallow layer became a non supportable layer that is over a foot thick. Just to add to the problem, at some point, we got a storm or two in late November/early December, I forget. It laid down 5-10 inches. Then it didn't snow again for a while. It evidently came in warm, because at the interface with the ground facets to the newer snow there is a melt/freeze layer. Very thin, less than an inch in most spots. Very brittle. Add to just on top of it, is a near surface faceted layer. It's less than a quarter inch, but that layer is a killer. So you've got a thin hard but brittle slab sandwiched between two weak layers.
I observed a lot of this on Vail Pass yesterday. At the slope we usually start with there was a fracture line from a slide there earlier this week. It slid on top of that brittle ice layer, but did not step down and take out the ground facets. Awesome. I did an ECT on what was left, got a full propagation at the second strike from my elbow. I'm calling it a Quality 2 shear, but some might call it a Q1. If there is a Q 1.5 that is what I'd call it. Either way it was a huge red flag, and we stayed well away from that aspect and the cliff line. We chose more broken terrain with wide open run outs to slide out on should it slide. Having stuff to bang into like trees is not a good thing. Something to be super mindful of this season. What is below you. I believe a lot of those zones, the slides are not big enough to bury you completely. The problem is the terrain you are getting carried into, is enough to beat you to death, or the terrain has a feature that facilitates you getting buried deeply. We've seen this a few times already this season. Many of the deaths have been from trauma. The sidecountry skier outside of Snowmass triggered a very small slide. A slide that you'd normally just walk away from, without needing to be rescued. The problem was that the bottom of the path ended in a v shaped gully that facilitated him getting fully buried. A terrain trap. You can look at the report and pictures here
. You can see that the slide was barely 30 feet tall and not much wider than that. The terrain choice is what killed him here.
The Wolf Creek area is a bit different. Generally speaking the snow pack down there is in pretty good shape. They do have several layers of surface hoar that is now buried. Creating some problems. In well treed zones and a lot of zones, it's perfectly fine to be playing around. 40 degree widely spaced trees in Gibbs creek is not that area. I have no idea why one would think that was a good zone to play in. I know from riding with locals on the pass that Gibbs creek was a zone that they wouldn't even consider riding until stability was decent on the pass. At least moderate all the way around, and usually some low avalanche danger at certain zones and aspects. Not an area you want to mess with when considerable is the overall danger rating. I think the desire to ski "rad" terrain, and the lack of it even in bounds is helping people make some irrational choices. Plus the factor that backcountry riding is now the kewl thing to do is getting people out there who do not understand or chose to ignore the warning signs. The report is also that he was a ski patroller at Keystone. Even the most experienced can make critical mistakes. It's a bummer, because there is plenty to do at Wolf Creek pass that is safe, but offers very steep, although short shots, that are very low consequence if they should slide. Why he chose such a high consequence area, I do not know.