What a crazy week in the Tahoe backcountry. Since the last report we’ve had a few days of spring, a few unforgettable days of champagne, and now we’re looking at a forecast calling for some major storm activity. In the earlier part of the week there were a lot of complaints flying around about the rain, and the lack of a softening snowpack. Temperatures were high, but because of the low December sun and just the right wind, many slopes that should have corned up remained pretty firm. Thankfully those conditions didn’t last for too long, as the above picture shows.
But before the good stuff came in, I linked up with a friend to head south to see what was what on the Eastside. It’s definitely thinner from Bridgeport on down to Tioga Pass than in Tahoe, but we still figured the Coke Chute off Dana Plateau would serve us well for a day mission.
Beyond the fact that it’s just plain slim down there, a rain crust is also in existence up till about 10k feet. Not the easiest surface to skin, but stubbornly, we continued on hoping conditions would change higher up. A few hundred feet above the bench on the Plateau the snow changed to a windboard/chalk mix. Perfect. It’s fun to ski chutes and couloirs in conditions like this as you can get an edge in, and the turns feel steeper then what you’re actually skiing.
Coke Chute skied well, and even though the rain crust didn’t soften as much as we had hoped, the riders right portion of V Bowl was actually not bad to ski since it’s fairly protected, has a north orientation, and doesn’t see any sun. After a quick soak in the Travertine hot springs we headed home after a nice first Eastside mission of the season, with some good beta on conditions for the coming weeks.
By the time I got back home and was thinking about where to ski for the next few days the buzz was already building about a collection of massive storm systems about to crush the Basin. We’ll get into that shortly, but before I could even comprehend the precipitation estimates being tossed around, Tahoe got two days of absolutely classic Sierra powder days.
Wednesday was a day that will be looked back on during this season as one of the days that make for an epic year. You go to bed Tuesday night with fat flakes flying around, not sure what the morning will look like. And then WHAM! One to two feet of blower with bluebird skies. That’s what it’s all about.
Having had a pretty late work night I strolled up to Jakes pre-sunrise to try and catch a few friends. Huh? I almost didn’t get a parking spot! More than 10 cars deep and the sun hadn’t even come up. Initially I was taken back and questioned why I wasn’t skiing one of the other many spots around the Lake that would be just as good, if not potentially better, with little to no people. But as I cruised up and dropped into the white room, not crossing a track, I remembered how many ways you can ski Jake’s and what a fun mountain it is. No wonder it’s so popular, with such a great sustained pitch and so many options to descend, as long as you know where you’re going and the snow is good, it’s going to be a high quality run.
After catching up with Brendan Madigan, from Alpen Glow Sports in Tahoe City, and linking up with another friend, Jessy Busshie, we headed off for the Emerald Bay zone to ski one of the chutes. Funny, after reading the recent post about tele skiers, both of these guys drop a knee, and both are about as solid backcountry skiers as you can find in Tahoe. Regardless of the tools, Eagle Chute was unforgettable. Having skied this line numerous times over the years, I’ve never had so many overhead face shots and seen so much sluff run while skiing this line.
That was part of the game on Wednesday, and even Thursday (to a lesser degree)- lots of sluff running. It started slow and then exploded with force as many diverse aspects let loose and sent sluff running as far as I’ve seen in Tahoe. The snow did settle a bit Thursday, but with crazy surface hoar crystals shattering with each shady turn, snow was still moving on slopes over 35 degrees.
Now for the game changer. 3-8 feet is expected to annihilate Tahoe in the coming days. Heavy winds and a fluctuating snowline will keep things interesting through the weekend. We’ll have to watch for layering with this major event depending on how diverse snowline plays out, but we also have one major thing to be aware about as these storms come through. Deep slab instabilities. They’re one of the scariest things to the backcountry slider. If they go, they usually go big. I was able to chat with one of the SAC observers on our last Jakes lap Wednesday. He told us there are facets near the recent rain crust layer and there will be a potential for that layer to fail with the new snow we just got consolidating, and then receiving a bunch of new snow on top of that in the coming few days. Something to be aware about for sure, and read the SAC bulletin if you’re looking for more detailed information.
Looking forward to seeing a sea of good people at the GNAR premier Friday, and let’s get ready for a storm that will hopefully bring our greater backcountry, and all the nooks and crannies at Squaw into play for 2011.