The reports from home were grim. After four snowy weeks skiing in Alaska’s Chugach Range it sounded like more people were psyched to mountain bike than ski in the Sierra. Considering the incredibly low snowfall totals this season, coupled with the never ending options to to play outside in the California sun, it made sense. But coming back to Tahoe during the middle of last week mountain biking was the last thing on my mind.
Tuesday evening a ski partner from South Lake told me that he might have gotten more face shots that day than all season combined. Although Mt. Rose fared well, the South Lake region got the most out of the most recent disturbance. The call was to spend the next couple of days skiing around the Carson Pass area. New snowfall ranged from 6 inches at trailheads to 18+ inches in higher elevation locales. The snow was light, cold and responsive.
By late Thursday afternoon the magic was fading. You could feel it every half-hour or so as temperatures rose. But as you can see in the first ten shots of this piece, up until then the skiing felt like midwinter. I’m trying to hold back here as the reports I received before coming home ultimately spoke to a nonexistent scene, which was reinforced by several other friends who were undoubtedly “over it”.
If you fall into either of those categories I hope you were able to get out, and get into some of the top-notch snow that fell. If not, the window vacated the area rather quickly and I’m sure whatever other activities people enjoyed were fun enough. The thing is powder is a scarce resource, so being able to jump on it when it’s available is crucial, especially this late in the season.
Looking towards Desolation Wilderness this shot was taken a little less than a week ago before the sun really started to melt the new snow. Although the photo makes it look snowier than it currently sits, the coverage on the higher peaks is still about as good as anywhere in our greater area.
I’m not sure the snow at Ebbett’s Pass will hold on very long this spring. Even after last week’s coat it looked pretty thin down there. But you never know until you go, and I’m sure there’ll be a few turns to harvest before all is said and done.
At the turn of the weekend the powder window was closing and the Eastside was calling. The annual Green Creek Chuteout went off with 30+ skiers and riders leaving their mark on the classic run. The conditions were as good as one could hope for.
Coverage in Virginia Lakes looked solid-plenty of skiing to be done there at the moment. And Dunderberg was in pretty solid shape as well. The North Couloir skied like a surface of chalky sugar. It was great wintery conditions that continued in the upper half of the Green Creek Couloir. Lower down, below 10k feet changing aspect led to smooth corn before the always entertaining willows and creek crossing back to the trailhead.
Tioga Pass also opened last weekend (up until the bathrooms near the pass) offering arguably the highest quality, currently accessible skiing in the Sierra. Mt. Dana’s main lines are in shape, although the Dana Couloir itself looked a little scaled out and variable, while the Solstice Couloir skied much like the North Couloir of Dunderberg. It was much better than what any of us thought we were getting into.
Ellery Bowl is thin at the top, but fully skiable. The Powerhouse Chutes are skiing well (as long as you avoid dropping in on the refreeze) and as of last Sunday you could ski to within a short walk back to the road. I also just heard that Sonora Pass is open, which will probably offer some great skiing and riding this weekend to anyone that’s interested.
Looking ahead, the forecast models look warm and dry for a bit. There may be, and probably will be some precipitation in May, but if you’re still interested in backcountry skiing and riding there’s no time like the present to get out there. High elevation is the name of the game. Locally, the Mt. Rose area is rapidly thinning, but still holding worthy coverage for a tour. Coverage is better around the Carson Pass area as there’s still plenty of snow above 8k feet. The problem is below that there’s a very obvious lack of snow, which is why heading to our local passes is the best bet for turns in the greater Tahoe area.
On the Eastside, the higher, the better. Tioga Pass, Sonora Pass and Virginia Lakes offer some of the best coverage and access right now. South of Mammoth reports are rough as snow down to Highway 395 is nonexistent. However, if you look into the heart of the range from any high peak you’ll see there’s snow out there-you just have to walk a good distance to get it.
As always use safe travel techniques while you’re out searching for turns in the hot April sun. Be aware of rapidly warming temperatures and the possibility of wet snow slides, as well as other warming related issues such as exposing yourself to cornice failure, weak snowbridges over creeks, and areas around rocks that melt out faster than others.
It’s not over yet folks, unless you want it to be. High elevation access to the south is available early this season, our local passes continue to hold a skiable base, and the Mt. Shasta/Lassen spring season is here. The resorts are holding some great snow up high as well and fully worth a tour. It’s certainly a thin one this season, but spring skiing in California is always worth a check. Get out there and get some!
“State of the 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.
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: