It's not the spring season we're used to in the Eastern Sierra, but there is high elevation snow to shred, and several rumors continue to float about Sonora and Tioga Pass potentially opening as early as this upcoming weekend



Eastern Sierra Conditions Report: Spring 2012 | Will Sonora & Tioga Pass Open This Weekend?

It’s not the spring season we’re used to in the Eastern Sierra, but there is high elevation snow to shred, and several rumors continue to float about Sonora and Tioga Pass potentially opening as early as this upcoming weekend. While there’s still no way to confirm these rumors until Caltrans officially gives the green light, they have been making the rounds in Sierra backcountry circles for several days now and they only seem to be getting stronger.

With the hope that access to Sonora, Tioga, and possibly even Ebbett’s Passes will be granted soon my buddy Jeremy and I headed south to see what kind of snow we could find in between the passes, namely within the vicinity of Bridgeport. We started our trip taking the long route since Monitor Pass is now officially open. En route the views of Ebbett’s Pass (top photo) and Sonora Pass

offered hope that with early road openings some quality corn skiing will be had before all is said and done with this season. Backcountry reports from as far south as Onion Valley and Bishop have all spoken to decent skiing up high, and really burnt or nonexistent conditions down low. Without high elevation access getting creative with four wheelers, mountain bikes, or walking some dirt has been what many skiers and riders have been utilizing to get to good snow above nine, but really more like ten thousand feet. A view towards Crater Crest and the Sawtooth Range offers a glimpse of what the lower reaches of ski objective in this region currently look like.

The past week has seen record temps in the Sierra and no real freeze except for radiational cooling at night. Here’s some highlights from the latest report by the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center:

The heat wave continues with temperatures already above freezing at almost all elevations this morning. Yesterday’s heat dampened the snow even on the high elevation northerly facing slopes, with the snow downright wet on all other slopes. 

The last two day’s avalanche activity consisted of small to large (D2 and D3) point release avalanches that have traveled over 1,000 feet, fanned out and deposited debris piles three to five feet deep. Avalanches are running on all aspects with most being naturals and a few skier triggered slides. An observer reported the upper slopes of Mammoth Mountain are “knee deep in slop in minimally skied areas”. Are we having fun yet? 

With two more days of big heat assaulting our thin snowpack, even the sheltered high elevation north and east slopes could see some avalanche activity. As much as 12 to 18 inches of storm snow from last weekend is sitting on buried crusts to act as sliding surfaces and lingering faceted layers. While wet sluffs will be the most common heat related avalanche, more dangerous wet slab avalanches are possible the next few days.

There are numerous red flags out there. Radically above freezing temperatures with strong sun, consecutive, non freezing nights and wet and sloppy slopes with roller balls wheeling down mid and upper elevation slopes.

Keep in mind that in isolated places, a triggered sluff might gouge into wet snow or trigger a slab avalanche. There are some large overhanging cornices in the Lakes Basin and in the Negatives area that should be avoided by mid day. Cornices could drop onto steep slopes below steep couloirs or open bowls. While cornices are an effective trigger for wet snow slides, they could also trigger deeper, larger avalanches. With these record breaking temperatures, pre dawn starts are a good idea so you can ski down by 9 or 10 AM.

With such awkward conditions in place Jeremy and I thought we’d try to catch an elusive refreeze lap using the relatively high jump-off elevation gained from Virginia Lakes Road at close to 10,000 feet. While not a true refreeze our experiment worked well as a few last minute turns in the sun were somewhat supportable,

while the remainder of our ski after sunset got better and better.

The next day we toyed  with the idea of a slog into the Sawtooth, but quickly snapped to our senses and went back to Virginia Lakes.

We met up with our friend Ben in the parking lot and set out for a few fun laps in the hot Sierra sun.

Although coverage is thin at best there is some decent skiing to be had out of Virginia Lakes right now.

We played with a few different aspects and even found a few firmish turns in the shade,

before giving into the full brunt of the sun by mid-day.

The real hope for the week ahead is the freeze forecasted to come in by weeks end, and the continued strength of the rumor mill pointing to Sonora and Tioga Passes opening as early as this weekend. There’s some snow showers in the forecast for Thursday, which will bring on a much needed freeze, but then it’s supposed to be clear and blue through the weekend. If any better info comes our way in the coming days I’ll be sure to update this report, and as always feel free to keep us updated if you hear anything solid about the passes opening. It may not be the season we usually anticipate down on the Eastside, but people are sniffing out some good skiing, and with the impending freeze and easier access to high elevation terrain on the way you can count on the Eastside delivering a few more days of fun before the season wraps up. Get Fired Up!