It’s wet, it’s heavy, and it’s currently promoting a volatile snowpack. While we could certainly do without the volatile part of things, the 2-4 feet that’s already fallen, and the 4+ feet we’ll hopefully get by the end of the upcoming weekend is sorely needed.

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State of the Tahoe Backcountry 2012: VIII | Sponsored by Cloudveil

It’s wet, it’s heavy, and it’s currently promoting a volatile snowpack. While we could certainly do without the volatile part of things, the 2-4 feet that’s already fallen, and the 4+ feet we’ll hopefully get by the end of the upcoming weekend is sorely needed.

In the past week Tahoe held tough with a mainly moderate avalanche forecast that just rose to considerable over the past couple of days. Of course those of you who’ve been following our local news and evolution of the snowpack know all about the persistent weak layer (PWL) that’s been the reason for the moderate forecasts being issued, as it continues to sit buried under a few feet of snow that fell at the beginning of the month.

The next few shots showcase a pit my partner Jeff and I dug while skiing ankle-deep powder on Rubicon earlier in the week.

In the above shot look closely at the middle of the pit and you should be able to see a slight discrepancy that shows off the PWL. In these next two shots you can see Jeff using his saw to cut the PWL in a saw propagation test,

with the result of the slab sliding after the saw blade travelled 40/100cm in this shot.

I believe cautious is a word that accurately describes how a majority of backcountry users went about their turns this past week. That said, the skiing was really good as the PWL became harder and harder to trigger. Even though E winds ravaged the tops of many of our peaks, as seen here on the North Bowl of Tallac,

and warm temps did a number to sun affected slopes, sheltered NW terrain retained high quality. The lead shot in this piece along with next several come from skiing N-NW slopes on a tour from Tallac to Maggie’s post-wind event. This is a great tour if you’re looking for a moderately long, but super fun tour of two of Tahoe’s premier peaks. Taking a little extra effort to get to the NW trees on Tallac is a great way to kick off the tour. The steep, consistent pitch that falls into the Cascade Lake drainage is the perfect spot when looking for some solitude combined with quality NW facing terrain.

In regards to the recurring avalanche danger we faced all week you can see a fracture in this shot,

which is a zoomed in look at some of the prime terrain that sits off the backside of Tallac.

When touring from Tallac to Maggie’s on a bluebird day, after shuttling a car in the morning, skiing off Tallac, and skinning up the backside of Maggie’s South, the view is always breathtaking.

There are several options in terms of descents from the top of Maggie’s South, but with a perfect powder run already had off Tallac we opted for more of the same down to Granite Lake. Once you’re at Granite Lake it’s a simple skin to the top of Maggie’s North. From there find the entrance to the wide NW Chute a little ways down the ridge, and drop in. Here Toby makes it look as good as it was.

Even with the warm temps most of this linkup is so sheltered we skied powder all the way to the car at Eagle Falls (seen in the lead shot with Toby above Emerald Bay). On the flip side, except for the first half of skinning up Tallac, the ascents are on more sun exposed slopes. With the added help of skin wax the up becomes  pretty quick and easy even if it’s hot out.

At the turn of the weekend and into the now it’s been back to storm mode, skinning up above snowline to find smooth fresh snow,

and finding some really nice pockets of fluff up high, in the right spots.

Although there’s more cement than not out there, so long as our snowpack settles out, just remember that this is the kind of snow no one else in the world (but maybe the PNW) understands like us. In the Sierra we have steep terrain that only comes into play with this kind of snow, which also in its thickness helps us set up for a solid spring skiing season.  There’s for surely been a bunch of rain pretty high, but  by Friday night, when all of this rain is forecasted to turn to snow, speaking strictly from a Sierracentric snow perspective, that’s when things will get really good (thick cement+cold fluff on top =’s happy skiers and riders!).

As we look past the weekend there’s a chance of some weak systems followed by another potential big one a little ways out. That forecast will take better shape as we get closer to next week, but for now all eyes are on the switch from rain, to snain, to hopefully some blower through the weekend. Squaw should be the best it’s been all season, and there will no doubt be amazing skiing to be had in the Tahoe backcountry. All that said take a deep breathe, get ready for some fabulous skiing, and please read the SAC reports to stay on top of the changes in the snowpack as these diverse waves of precipitation roll through and bring instability with all the new snow. Also check out this post with some thoughts on our snowpack shared by SAC forecaster Andy Anderson.

Of course the best conditions of the season are about going down as I’m heading out of town, but I look forward to hearing how things shape up at home, and I also look forward to checking in with some backcountry reports from Cordova, Alaska in the next few weeks. Be safe, have fun, and enjoy the storm train everyone!

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