The dream is alive and real across the American West right now, and among the celebrated are Sierra Nevada skiers and riders who are experiencing a season that’s started to feel like a blur. Another storm here, more feet of powder there, it’s the best kind of groundhog day for the snowslider. With some areas boasting well over 600” of snow this season if it were the end of May, most would be content. But with March just getting started, and the prime spring season of April and May on deck, this is truly the season of dreams.
The spotlight for this report falls on the heart of the Range of Light, the High Sierra. As January continued to hammer copious amounts of precipitation from Tahoe to Lone Pine, the hallowed terrain of the Eastern Sierra is currently boasting coverage many have never experienced. From Bridgeport south a recent window was enjoyed were perfect powder turns could be made from the high tops of 13k foot peaks all the way to the desert floor in the Owens Valley. Farther south, many Sierra 14’ers have seen nothing but snow at the higher elevations, even as temperatures have warmed. Although the ever present winds have left their marks in more recent days, and the window of 8-9k foot powder descents has closed for now, the high country is stacked.
Wind slabs, loose wet instabilities, and obstructions such as old slide debris and/or questionable cornices are what’s out there at present. What’s remained sheltered has continued to ski well coming off some of the best backcountry skiing the Golden State has seen in years throughout February. March and the upcoming Spring are looking good. The trick for now is to wait for better weather to shape as the next storms take hold. A note from the field is understanding the sheer volume of snow received so far this season, and the importance of choosing objectives wisely as depth of snowpack and stability continues to change. In addition to wind slabs and storm slabs, as massive layers of snow have been deposited on Eastside peaks, atypical obstacles such as glide cracks have been observed on several ski tours from early December until now.
Winds have left their mark recently, and E-S slopes have also been impacted due to increased solar radiation. Overall, the snowpack has been in a mostly stable state with clear weather and high pressure in place for the past several days, but these mountains are big, and the range of difference from even Mammoth to Bishop can be quite dramatic. Always check in with ESAC advisories before going out, and make sure to have a solid grasp of your intended objective before setting out for a tour. There really hasn’t been too many clear days in the Eastern Sierra this season compared to all the storms. Besides the guidebooks many arm themselves with to study intended tours, you might want to check in with folks at SMG as they not only have the most accurate, intimate updates on conditions, you might want to get out with them for a tour as they’re out there looking for and skiing the goods just about everyday.
In Tahoe, the high peaks have almost two feet off new snow and another foot could fall by the end of Monday. The storm train is full speed ahead as it has been all season. Local neighborhoods are still buried, even after taking several warm blasts on the head from multiple atmospheric river events. The Basin is skiing phenomenally from north to south, east to west. As is the case to the south of Tahoe, lower elevation objectives have lost much of the base that was present in January and February. But there are more options available today to spread out than we’ve had in years. After this current cold blast of a few more feet the forecast models hint at a possible period of high pressure.
It’s always worth repeating that supporting local avalanche centers and using their advisories is crucial. Having the right gear to safely access the mountains, and learning how to use your gear is key too. Check out the 11-part series put out by legend Andrew Mcclean as he does a great job of covering so many important bases connected to our sport. Acquiring more and staying on top of your knowledge is essential, but at the end of the day making good decisions about where, what, when, and who to ski with will never loose its importance. As I prepare to reluctantly leave the Sierra for a bit for my next favorite place, Alaska, I look forward to hearing how Sierra skiers and riders take advantage as the season of dreams rolls on. Enjoy it out there!
Unofficial Networks State of the Backcountry Reports from the 2016-2017 ski season:
Antarctica and Tahoe (Nov)
Tahoe Storm Edition (Jan)
Sierra Storm Edition (Feb)
State of the Backcountry Shares Stoke Through: