At this point in the 2012-2013 season it’s fair to say the period from the winter solstice up until a week or so ago will be remembered fondly. The backcountry skiing was nothing short of extraordinary, with low temps keeping the snow cold on most aspects, giving us better skiing and riding over the span of a few weeks than what we experienced almost all of last season.
Since the last edition of “State of the Tahoe Backcountry” the powder train was still firing full steam ahead. That is, until the evil E winds showed up. As seen in the lead shot the evil E did have a strong impact on a great deal of terrain. Open faces, ridges and pristine snow was shattered, but the skiing in select zones stayed good until we faced our next bump in the road.
Last week temperatures started to spike and while quality snow continued to stick around in the usual locations eventually the temps had their way. Actually, it wasn’t all about the warm temps. Enter rain that jumped up above 9k feet and for a few days just about everything in our greater area was complete saturated mush. It skied fine considering, especially with big fat skis, but when the full moon rose this past weekend another change blew into our area. I was actually out skiing during the sunset/moonrise on Saturday and you could really feel a dramatic change of cold air billowing into Tahoe accompanying a few scattered snow showers. Skinning out to view the full moon rise the snow was still mush. Skiing back was a different story. It was the definition of combat turns-a rapidly freezing once saturated snowpack turning to full-on breakable crust by the second. Needless to say, the tracks weren’t pretty.
By Sunday depending on your exact location anywhere from 1-4” of new snow had fallen across our area. The cold air had locked-up most of the snowpack thanks to the high rain-line from a few days back, and anything with a higher than moderate pitch skied exactly like you’d think-complete dust on crust. That said, as we start this week Monday morning was another beautiful day to be out skiing in the Tahoe backcountry, and where it’s smooth and relatively low-angle the skiing is more than enjoyable.
In terms of avalanche activity danger has remained low in the most recent weeks. Of course low is always a relative term since isolated areas that showcase complex, exposed or other unique terrain features might not be as stable. For example, with the most recent N winds some small wind slabs have been observed on S aspects, including some W and NW aspects as well. Also, since it rained above 9k feet and the snowpack refroze the new snow we have is sitting on a mostly supportable snowpack, which I can say is leaps and bounds better than if we had unsupportable, breakable crust to deal with like I experienced last Saturday night. Those were the toughest turns of the season by far. That said, right now a fall on a steep slope might be extremely hard to arrest given the few inches of dust we have out there laying on top of a really hard, slick surface. Caution for safe travel, terrain selection and otherwise conservative decision-making is advised now as it is always. Check out the SAC site to make sure you’re always as up-to-date as you can with the constant changes in our snowpack.
Speaking to our big brother and sister peaks to the south, I was able to make a short trip down to the Eastern Sierra recently where there really isn’t as much coverage as we have up here in Tahoe. The northern portion of the range is fairing better than spots to the south, but that’s not to say if you feel like going for a long walk, I bet you’ll find something worthy. High winds have hammered a good portion of the high country, but locals and a host of visitors have still been finding quality conditions. On my visit last week classic Eastside conditions were found in the couloir we skied (fast climbing with firm, chalky, biteable windboard on the descent) with several powdery panels to milk on the way out. Overall, it was a great outing, but a good ole’ classic multi-foot dump would do the “Range of Light” and its backcountry users well.
Looking ahead there’s no definite precipitation in our forecast, although there is some promise for a storm to impact us by the middle of next week. Hopefully that system will provide a solid refresh, but in the meantime temps are forecasted to rise all week. With highs approaching 50 by the weekend, perhaps the sun will work a little magic for us and soften things out.
As we head into February this week pristine conditions are in the past, but we are looking at perfect Tahoe weather and a whole bunch of peaks that currently have more snow now than they did for most, if not all of last season. Go take a walk. If you get the good tidings of the mountains then perhaps you’ll be inclined to share that stoke in other parts of your day. It’s one of the many pure gifts I believe we receive from spending time in the backcountry. Remember that no matter what shore you call home or what peak/line you’re riding from the Sierra Buttes, to the Carson Valley, West Shore and Kirkwood, there’s only one Lake Tahoe, and the point of skiing is to have fun. Nothing more, nothing less. We live in a special place with a ton of amazing people to share it with. Celebrate it, and go get some!
“State of the Tahoe Backcountry” is sponsored by Alpenglow Sports. Established in 1979, Alpenglow Sports is Tahoe City’s original mountain shop. Specializing in backcountry and Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, trail running, backpacking, hiking, camping, and the mountain lifestyle apparel, Alpenglow is always psyched to offer premier user-based customer service.
Don’t forget to login to Alpenglow’s Backcountry Vertical Challenge. Every vertical foot logged helps Alpenglow get closer to unlocking a huge donation to our very own Sierra Avalanche Center and there’s some great prizes to win for yourself as well.
Alpenglow is also fired up to be hosting the second annual Squaw Nachtspektakel on Saturday, February 9th. Last year was a blast! I hope to see you there!
You can check into more regular “State of the Backcountry” conditions reports through its Facebook page linked here.
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Previous “State of the Tahoe Backcountry” Reports from the 2012-2013 season: