State of the Backountry 2010-2011 Edition: IV

State of the Backountry 2010-2011 Edition: IV

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State of the Backountry 2010-2011 Edition: IV

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Backcountry Skiing, Squaw Valley, Tram Face Shoulder

I hope everyone realizes the first day of winter was Tuesday. What a fall! Several feet has dropped since October and at least six feet has collected in the past week over the Tahoe Basin. Some totals on the Sierra Crest reach well above the ten foot mark. This has been a crazy, crazy storm for a sometimes more mellow La Nina winter. It’s really shaping up to be an all time season if the storm door remains open as forecasted.

When the latest storms hit last weekend, avalanche danger was about as severe as it gets in Tahoe. The cold snow that had fallen on Wednesday and Thursday developed a surface hoar layer that was initially fun to ski through, but became a dangerous weak layer when amazing amounts of Sierra cement splattered the mountains.

Fun to ski, bad if it doesn't get broken down before a new snow load

A few diehards still set skin tracks up and down the West Shore during the weekend and surprisingly reported little evidence of “extreme” conditions in the “right” spots. Regardless of the high amounts of snow that fell above 9k a whole mess of rain, snain, and sludge collected at lake level during the cycle and overall conditions were sketchy at best in the backcountry.  Slide activity was reported on various peaks and elevations all over our area. Add in the high winds and the avalanche bulletins from SAC and it made sense to spend a few days inbounds. Squaw was high quality as it always is, and conditions allowed for a few hucksters like long time local ripper Joshua Plack (and Mike Wilson as seen through the lens of Ryan Salm) to log some vertical air time off classic cliffs like the Ice Goddess.

Finding some air time during the storm

During the storm cycle I had the chance to skin into Shirley Canyon and geek out on some of the current snowpack dynamics. Lots of debris was noticed on a variety of aspects over 35 degrees. Thankfully, the rain crust that had been felt after the cold front blew through post-snain showed signs of deteriorating. Getting face shots with just 8 inches new sure was sweet, but it was better to feel that crust layer breaking down and meshing with the rest of the snowpack. The shoulder of Tram Face was where we ended up skiing on this day, and as long as you didn’t ski into any debris, the turns were super smooth and creamy.

A nice skin and ski off the Shoulder of Tram Face

West Shore area descents have also settled out a bit and have been delivering fantastic conditions as they usually do. My partner and I even ran one lap down to the shores of Emerald Bay. Definitely a few fun tree pitches to ski in and around the Bay if you’re willing to hike out. They seldomly get skied, but it’s actually pretty fun to lay some tracks down there,  especially after skiing something like Maggie’s or Jake’s. The tour of the shoreline before hiking out is also pretty sublime and reminds me why even locals still gape at this unique feature of Lake Tahoe.

Creamy fresh on the way to the water of Emerald Bay

As of Thursday temps have spiked a bit and a lot of quality Lake level snow has been turned to muck. But recent observations from Carson Pass on down to Donner Summit have confirmed solid overall snowpack stabilization, and there’s a lot of good snow up high.

Beautiful reflections of Maggie's and Jake's on the water

Wind slab development could be an issue in the coming days as we see a break in the otherwise rampant precipitation that’s been falling, and the long range forecast also shows we may still get a few intense storms before January. Things just keep looking better and better for 2011.

Take advantage of Thursday and Friday’s clear weather and get out for some human powered turns. Backcountry skiing should be phenomenal the next few days, especially above 7k. You may even be able to leave a few tracks under an almost full moon if you get out in the next night or two. Otherwise it should be back to dumpage by Christmas, and more powder days to close out 2010 in Tahoe.

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