Whoo Hoo! The spotlight for this edition is the return of winter and powder skiing to the greater Tahoe area. The stoke meter has been high and no matter where you’ve been skiing or hanging out, from Truckee to Meyers, skiers and riders are FIRED UP!
And they should be. In my mind we’ve had three very obvious high points to our 2012-2013 season thus far. The first was the 3-4 feet we received in October, the next was the heavy precipitation and cold temps from the winter solstice up until the third week in January, and the third has been the conditions over the past week.
We’ve had a bit over 2 feet of new snow this month, and while that’s not an overly abundant amount for the area, the essence has been that every drop has been skiing deeper than what actually fell. Put simply, it’s the quality that’s been above and beyond. We started with a couple of plastery inches last Sunday and Monday that smoothed a host of local backcountry terrain out above 7500’. But the real goods started last Wednesday when an incredibly windy storm blew in and brought anywhere from 6-12” depending on where you were skiing. The snow wasn’t that deep, but it skied deep and you weren’t hitting bottom. When you add in the 12-18” we received the following days you get some of the best skiing and riding of the season.
Throughout the greater Sierra Nevada it sounds like conditions have been exceptional. I haven’t made it farther south than Carson Pass since the last “State of the Tahoe Backcountry”, but it sounds like skiers and riders are just as stoked on the Eastside as we are up here in Tahoe.
While the east side of Lake Tahoe didn’t get as much snow as locales close to the Sierra Crest people have been thoroughly enjoying themselves touring in the Mt. Rose area. There’s also great coverage in the Northern Sierra reaches close to Truckee, and to the south around the Carson Pass area, including Desolation Wilderness. The West Shore has been about as good as it gets. From Rubicon Peak to Mt. Tallac the powder skiing has been extraordinary. The 18 or so inches that fell actually felt more like three feet, especially on steeper pitches where just about every turn would either explode into your face, or stay locked and dependable. It was so good that with Emerald Bay Rd. closed for rockfall I ended up driving around the lake with a couple of Truckee friends just because we knew Mt. Tallac would be that good. It was.
Even though this past weekend brought the increasingly intense rays of a March California sun, the snow has stayed soft, light and cold on protected north facing aspects. Near ridgelines wind slabs have formed and are something to watch. Sunnier aspects have grown a crust and will continue to change as we warm up through the week. The potential for wet snow instabilities will also increase on SW-S-SE aspects. Early morning E aspects as well as later day W aspects may also present wet snow instabilities as our current warming trend continues.
But most of you want to keep skiing powder, right? Stick to N-NE aspects and even some NW aspects where winds didn’t have a dramatic effect. However, be aware that we do have variable PWL’s lurking on the slopes that are holding the best snow. I’ll stress that they are not uniform and variably located throughout the greater forecast area, but you should be aware that as our new snow has settled it has largely consolidated, but it has also formed into soft slabs in some places. Where these conditions exist and the PWL happens to be found underneath a skier triggered slide could result. Over the past several days of skiing the greatest concern I personally observed came in the form of sluff, the majority of which has settled out at this point, but be aware if you find yourself on a steep sun-starved run in the next few days. On the steeper aspects of Mt. Tallac wind slabs were evident, but where interaction took place solid bonding was also in place. These slabs were also avoidable by employing cautious travel decisions.
Looking ahead…keep skiing and riding! The trick will be sniffing out the quality snow that is still largely found throughout our greater forecast area. My vote is for the soft cold stuff, but if you’re patient and look for it I’m sure corn will be in play soon enough. If we’re lucky we might get a return to winter conditions by next Sunday, but until then there are clear skies and powder to seek out. Sounds like a pretty standard Tahoe situation for March-awesome snow and bluebird weather to work with. Ain’t Life Grand! Now if we could only get a 3-5+ footer all will be in motion for a miracle March that will make the late January-February drought but a mere bump in an otherwise awesome Tahoe season.
Enjoy everyone! For now it’s time to say a brief goodbye to the Sierra, and with my co-guide Jeff Dostie, get ready to head north and open up the Points North Heli-Adventures Touring Camp. We’ve got a full month lined up and are beyond stoked to get back to Cordova, Alaska, set up camp, and start our ski touring season in the Chugach. I look forward to hearing about what we missed when we get back in April, and I hope everyone stays safe and keeps enjoying the beautiful weather, coverage and snow we have right now. It’s as good as it’s been all year. Get out there and 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.
As always, stay as up-to-date on the constantly changing local snowpack conditions as you possibly can by checking in with SAC everyday. 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: