Personal samples of backcountry skiing started Sunday under a full moon with a few great laps of powder in the Mt. Rose area. Although the moon was one day past its full brightness, it was the thin cloud cover the kept us from going into a deeper mission, not the bright rays of the moon. However, the snow on all N-NE aspects we skied was perfect powder and there were plenty of fresh shots to descend with not another soul around.
Monday through Wednesday were spent skiing off Luther Pass as I continue to find new shots in this usually stable terrain that hides powder well after new snow has fallen in the Tahoe Basin. One session brought an old Squaw-ripper-splitboarder friend down for a mission, and I almost felt jealous as I watched “Rollie” surf the many pillows on our run with a rockered tip on his board that I was told is making splitboards even better powder tools for backcountry descents.
The real solid snow-sliding came in the later part of the week as new snow slowly began to accumulate throughout the Sierra, and I was able to secure some solid partners to tag a few of Tahoe’s less hit backcountry locales.
Fallen Leaf Lake just may be the best backcountry skiing in Tahoe. An obvious subjective viewpoint, partly because you can ski Tallac from here, get to Desolation, but mostly because of the wealth of terrain just a few hours trip away from the Lake. Unfortunately, our session got cut short as the impending late-week storm caught us in a white-out mid line, but we still had an amazing ride down what some locals refer to as “The Box Car”. It’s an epic chute that’s accessible through several different entrances, but it’s a mandatory to scope this one solidly before dropping in as there are a lot of ways to get sucked into hugely cliffed out terrain. Still, a sick line when you know where to go and it was even fun to climb up “Camp Chute” or the “Cathedral Couloir” as I call it that allows access to several worthy lines off 8369’ Cathedral Peak, a sub-peak of Mt. Tallac.
The next day’s mission was spent tagging a few of the better lines off Flagpole Peak in the South Shore. Another peak with views of Lake Tahoe that never get old, for some reason this peak isn’t hit all that much, even though it offers multiple lines with some perfectly sustained pitches to either milk or ski with a few huge turns. Our first lap was dropped down what old-schoolers call “Hollywood”, named because you stare directly at this steep face as you head up the 50 toward Echo Summit. Although this pitch faces slightly east, it still skied like a perfect fresh carpet. Our next lap dropped due north and the eight inches of powder skied more like a foot+ down the perfectly sustained high thirty degree pitch.
By the end of the week word must have gotten out that pretty much everything in the Tahoe’s vast backcountry was on fire. For Sunday I planned to hook up with a solid crew to ski Jakes before some Super Bowl indulgence in the afternoon. From Tallac to Rubicon, every accessible backcountry trail-head was packed. This caused me to pull an audible for our group as there was only one car packed where one usually starts to ski the Emerald Bay chutes.
After negotiating our parking spot with a Caltrans worker who also happened to be a backcountry skier, 6 people and three dogs headed out to ski “Eagle Chute”. Just like a lot of the lines in Tahoe’s backcountry, multiple names exist for various descents depending on who you ask. I’ve always known this line as Emerald Bay Chute 2, others call is Vikingsholm Chute, but all you really need to know is catching this line in good conditions is another extremely worthy backcountry line to tag around the Lake. It’s a fairly straightforward skin, and with good stability, you drop in and just stare at Emerald Bay as you arc swooping pow turns down the many surfable pitches. We did encounter some slight instability in the chute, as Photographer Ryan Salm sent some serious slough down the top of the line, but thankfully it just heightened our awareness that we had a junk show of bodies in the chute, and the rest of the line was skied cautiously and rode as smooth as butter.
Look for powder conditions to prevail during this week as we wait for a storm that could bring 5 to 8 inches by Wednesday. This should be followed by a brief high pressure window before another smaller system Thursday and Friday. We may get more high pressure for next weekend, but continue checking NOAA for current updates and stay in contact with the Sierra Avalanche Center to monitor the always changing conditions.
I look forward to checking in with everyone in March as I prepare to take off for some backcountry skiing in the Atlas Mountains of North Africa and The Western Alps of Europe later this week. Stay safe, keep hiking, and happy powder days.