State of the Backcountry IX by, Brennan Lagasse

State of the Backcountry IX by, Brennan Lagasse


State of the Backcountry IX by, Brennan Lagasse


Premium quality corn, while not quite as remarkable as powder (as nothing is) can be as fun to slide on as any snow surface if you time it right. Now is the season when corn really starts coming in regularly, and timing your ascent/descent makes or breaks your day. At the resort, it’s easiest to just chase the sun around as it moves from east to west all day. In the backcountry, depending on temperatures from the previous day, night, and the following morning, if a good freeze has happened there will be an optimum time (10 a.m-12 p.m.) when the shredding will be just right. This time will also depend on what elevation and aspect you’re skiing, as there are times when even 9 a.m. can be more ideal, but if the wind is blowing, it might not be right till 1 p.m. or even later. It’s definitely a process to master, but your efforts will be most rewarded when you’re tearing down a slope of freshly sprouted corn with Lake Tahoe gleaming down below, or the Owens Valley staring at you as you glide thousands of feet down the Eastside.

High Sierra
While chasing powder was the obvious choice for the early part of last week, chasing the seasonal treat that is Sierra corn became the focus. After some good resort skiing early week, and chasing some powder in the South Lake area, I was able to hook up with local Squaw shredder Andrew Eisenstark and Alpine Meadows patroller Duncan Sisson for a shot at skiing the second tallest peak in the Sierra, Mt. Williamson. Andrew and Duncan had already skied three 14’ers in the Sierra over past few weeks, but based on its reputation for a hellacious approach, Mt. Williamson at 14, 375’ was not something any of us were taking as a regular day trip.

We choose to do this one as a long day mission rather than an overnight, as a lot of skiers do, but it’s much easier to do this one when you can ski all the way out of the Bairs Creek drainage. We started our day by hiking on dirt, right at 6 a.m. and didn’t see the car again until 8:15 that evening. Granted we didn’t overly rush ourselves and we took a few leisurely breaks to take in our surroundings, snack, and brainstorm for ways to exit the mountain cleanly, but regardless, it was a long day! However, the views of the Sierra were amazing atop the summit, and the long ski out was a worthy adventure in another special place not too far from Tahoe.

Corn hunting consumed the rest of the week, from the Mt. Rose area, to the West Shore and South. However, my best corn turns were laid on a random peak on the East Shore I had wanted to ski for some time simply because it’s there.

Snow Valley Peak dropping in

Snow Valley Peak sits at 9214’ and is accessible from Spooner Summit. Besides the classic Bears Scratch runs near Sand Harbor, the East Shore is for surely the most neglected shore to ski in Tahoe. It makes sense as it holds the least amount of snow, but this mountain had become another “random” objective in that you see it from just about any highpoint around the Lake. There’s nothing at all rowdy to it, but I figured it could be a good corn ski given the right conditions. This weekend it had the right conditions and my lady and I and our dogs were stoked to shred as much of its W-SW facing slopes as we could. It was obvious no one really goes back there to ski as the slope was impeccably smooth, making the corn the best I’ve tasted this spring. Access is a pain as you have to slog a ways to get up there, and the vertical isn’t astronomical, which is probably why this one sees such little traffic, but it’s another great option and adventure in our big backyard.

As we head into the heart of our spring season this week get ready for another bout of winter. A wet storm will move in to our forecast area Monday evening and start warm with snow levels between 7-8000 feet. But that will quickly switch over to all snow with a cold air mass originating in the Gulf of Alaska and we could see 6 inches to a foot of snow at Lake level by Wednesday night. By Thursday night the sky will clear again and it looks like we’ll have another reset of snow conditions and the corn will be back in bloom in no time.

Another word to share on conditions-as I mentioned last week, the higher elevations on the Eastside are looking amazing right now, so next weekend into the following week should be prime slaying time for some big backcountry.

Have fun out there!

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