State of the Tahoe Backcountry 2011: V

State of the Tahoe Backcountry 2011: V


State of the Tahoe Backcountry 2011: V


From 14,000 feet on the Eastside, to an out-of-nowhere mini dump, it was another week in paradise for skiers and riders in the Sierra. We started the week with perfect corn finally coming into play, but then what was initially forecasted as a dusting turned into a full on overnight storm. As the story goes you never know what the Sierra will bring, and over the past several days skiers and riders have had to switch out of Juneuary mode and back into winter mode. Not a bad transition at all.

Last week at this time I was looking at Sunday and anticipating it as a day that even the most savvy backcountry skiers would have a tough time finding a nice layer to slide on. Boy was I wrong. My lady and I slept in and were treated to blower face shots for the next several hours as we lapped low angle tree pitches with explosive fresh powder. True, if you dug in too deep or got on anything remotely steep you’d hit the bottom and get a scary scratchy noise that almost killed the sneaker powder day buzz. However, back to moderate pitches meant back to zen and Sunday through Tuesday were just a matter of finding the right slope to shred to marry the high quality snow out there with the proper pitch. In this picture the rolling terrain allowed us to not touch bottom, but still maintain a great feel to ski with a lot of play in the light snow.  

Monday and Tuesday actually got better as the snow settled. Sure Sunday was fire in that the snow was so explosive, but the lack of bonding made it tough to find the right slope and speed to ski because the interface between the new an old snow was barely existent. I actually have heard quite a few people complaining after this storm, which I’m sorry to say is just not going to help you have fun when you’re skiing and riding. A storm like this is all about finding the right slope to ski on. Not the one you want to ski because it’s your favorite place to slay pow, but the one that will ride the best given what Mother Nature has provided.

Bonding and settling has really taken form the last few days. My buddy and I were skiing a consolidated, sheltered north facing pitch Tuesday, even in the height of the evil, evil east winds, and we were just floating through beautiful light powder. Major shifts took place Tuesday, unfortunately, and are still rolling through the Basin today with gusts up to 70 on the ridges, and a whole lot of nice snow being ripped off the mountains. We’re currently in a place where the only real good snow out there will be pitches that are protected from the east winds, and as sheltered as possible.

Corn will probably be back in play relatively soon, but our temperatures are staying really cold, which is great for the fresh snow we have, but since the winds have come through there will be less ease in finding it. I’ll still be searching out stashes of this amazing snow we have right now primarily on the type of terrain I’ve been talking about; sheltered, north facing.   

We’ll have to see how the snow changes over the week, but we’re still looking at a dry 10-day forecast so the corn radar will have to pop up soon once again. Actually, while in the Southern Sierra  last week I skied about as high quality corn as you can ask for in Juneuary before the storm hit.

Pushing off at about 5 a.m. John Morrision, Jeff Dostie, Blake, and myself gradually ski cramponed our way up to 14k feet. Ski crampons proved to be essential items on this tour and while I’ve had them for a while, to be honest I don’t use them all that much. This tour made me rethink my choices in using this tool and I’ll highly recommend them to anyone on any tour where side-hilling on firm snow surfaces may characterize an ascent.

Our ski was sublime starting with a view across the High Sierra that never gets old and always feels new.

We opted for a slightly different line than we climbed. John dropped in and sent some wet snow sliding down the complex face we picked our way through, but all in all the turns were fun, smooth, and relatively steep. I had anticipated skiing the couloir we climbed, which we did get into later in the descent, but negotiating the face we were on that was scattered with pepper, cliffs, and exposure was super fun, especially at around 13-14k feet. You wanted to ski smooth and fast, but you had to watch for where you made a turn because falling was not a good idea (not that it ever is).  

The whole descent was extremely high quality. I think Jeff said it best when he exclaimed, “This is when skiing 7k+ foot corn descents in the High Sierra are about as world class as you can get”. We all agreed, and it was cool to share the high stoke with John who’s logged enough up and down time on Eastside peaks to let you know if in fact what you just skied was really that good.

Energy might be turning back down that way as we head into the next week and more dry weather. Watch out for wind loading after yesterday’s heaving east winds that will also transport more snow on Wednesday. The winds should be easing off Wednesday however, and the trick will be finding the high quality snow that’s still around and hasn’t been blown into the foothills. Don’t listen to people who are talking smack about “dust on crust”. The snow has gotten better with settling the past few days and will continue to ski great in the right spot(s). When you make a call to go out for a tour this week also keep in mind that above tree line a lot of scouring took place on Tuesday. While I did find glorious beautiful powder, the top of the line I dropped into Tuesday was pretty scratchy and actually puckering because of the wind stripping. But as it goes in the backcountry, there’s always something worthy and amazing to shred so it’s just a matter of taking the time to figure out what terrain you’re comfortable with, and where the best turns can be found. Have fun out there this week, and keep an eye out for the middle part of February that is supposed to bring massive changes to our current, mostly mundane weather pattern.

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