"State of the Backcountry"

"State of the Backcountry"


"State of the Backcountry"



Although our time up on Donner was memorable to say the least, it’s essential to know that the decisions you make in the backcountry can either lead to a great day out with friends, or quickly turn into a tragic escapade. Unfortunately, I found out one skier found himself in the escapade category last week as he set off a slide and was buried up to his neck near Mt. Lincoln. The slopes we were skiing off Donner Summit are just a few hundred feet away from where this avalanche occurred (http://www.sierraavalanchecenter.org/node/410). Turns out the skier was okay, thankfully, but it’s always a mandatory to consider the consequences when skiing in the backcountry. A good practice to add into your daily ritual of getting ready to ski, if you already haven’t adopted this yet, is to check the latest local backcountry advisory before heading out each day (http://www.sierraavalanchecenter.org/).
The next day I found myself on Mt. Tallac, where arguably the ways to descend this epic mountain are endless. Having skied a few of the more classic steep lines earlier this season, this day seemed more suited to getting off the beaten path and tracking up something new. Jillian and I broke trail through thigh deep snow to the NE gully of Pelican Bowl, and proceeded to glide through some off the deepest turns in recent memory. Tallac is undoubtedly my favorite peak in our Tahoe backyard as you can literally ski anything from rolling powder-filled trees when the avalanche danger is high, to exposed, steep couloirs when conditions permit.

Then came the warm system. It wasn’t too bad, especially considering the local weather chatter had initially called for snowline to be upwards of 10,000 feet (meaning everything in Tahoe would bunk out), but “Sierra Cement” did take over our blower situation during the early portion of last week. I choose to hike off Luther Pass due to a starting elevation of about 7700’ that tops out at around 9500’. It still skied like cream cheese from the top to the bottom, but what happened the next few days is why it pays to have an idea of how our backcountry can change in the matter of a few hours.
The major energy of the storms had passed through, and even though we got a Pineapple system that caused rain to fall at Lake level, we got a few warmish days with super cold nights. This can mean one of a number of things, but last week that cold air just ripped all the moisture out of the snowpack and left us with refurbished fresh. The snow didn’t ski all that deep, but it was cold, fast, and felt like 6 inches new.

As the week progressed I continued to ski off Luther Pass until reports confirmed that the West Shore area had also undergone a similar metamorphosis. Well, the bottom few hundred feet were definitely still affected, but the majority of the skiing was just as good as higher elevation options; fresh smooth snow and just a handful of locals out shredding. Jakes skied great and even though it may be the most popular spot in the Tahoe backcountry, untracked options were everywhere as most skiers thought the conditions weren’t worth heading out for. Maggie’s didn’t ski quite as good as Jakes, but it’s always a worthy North Facing option, especially with the final pitch that makes you feel like you’re skiing into Emerald Bay.

All in all a sweet week to be a backcountry skier in Tahoe, with a weather forecast calling for new snow for most of the upcoming week http://forecast.weather.gov. Look for the strongest system to arrive next weekend, and keep current with the Sierra Avalanche Center postings for the most up-to-date reports on how things are changing out there. I know we live in the Sierra, and thus have the pleasure of skiing Maritime conditions that generally favors a more stable snowpack, but things do rip, and beyond our friend who got buried up on the Summit I also took this picture Sunday afternoon of a gnarly slide that originated somewhere near the top of the Emerald Bay chute zone. Be safe out there, and let us know what you’ve been shredding…

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