State of the Tahoe Backcountry 2011: VII

State of the Tahoe Backcountry 2011: VII


State of the Tahoe Backcountry 2011: VII


Viva La Nina! From north to south, east to west, and every shore in between let’s welcome winter back to Lake Tahoe. At the end of Wednesday anywhere from 18-34 inches has fallen depending on where you’re at in the Basin. Squaw is reporting about three feet on the upper mountain and I can safely say that I measured several spots that ranged from 22-30 inches this afternoon deep in some north facing trees in the backcountry.

 A few friends who got on Jakes early shared their first lap skied about boot deep. Their next lap was thigh+ and their third lap (and beyond) was overhead and blinding. I skipped the dawn patrol today and headed out after the 3-4”/hr pulse had already blasted through Tahoe. The winds were still raging up high, clearly whipping up some thick slabs above tree line. However, just below the upper alpine the snow stayed light and dry. It was actually really cold today, all day, and even with a quick turn over my partner and I were pretty frozen as we started wallowing through the almost 3 feet that had fallen in less than 24 hours. It was the kind of snow you needed to get a little momentum to get going, but once you did you didn’t want to stop. You know the sensation; it’s less like skiing and more like floating. Since we haven’t had conditions like this in several weeks, it felt that much more surreal.   

It’s just like Old Man Winter to come and drop a major storm on us like this just when I think a lot of people in Tahoe were about to go nuts. Never mind the old recrystalized powder and the decent corn from last week, people want to be immersed in the depths of winter in February and now we can all relax and not have to reminisce about how good November and December were. What a classic Sierra storm too as you have to love going to bed Tuesday night with close to dry yards only to wake up to full on raging deep winter conditions Wednesday morning. Check out these before and after shots of my driveway.

Tuesday afternoon

Wednesday morning   

A quick recap from the past week means little now except for the fact there have been some good turns for the intrepid skier. Corn when the wind wasn’t howling and old sugar pow on sheltered north aspects have been the treasures to hunt. A partner and I actually made a trip up to the Sierra Buttes and found some really great cold snow in a few couloirs, but of course we also found some breakable crust, refreeze corn, and some proverbial ice to go along with our soft stuff. It was actually a really fun day to ski just about every condition imaginable in such a rad location so close to home. A very Eastside sort of feel up there, and although the lines are shorter than they look from afar, it’s an amazing spot to get into some steep turns and ride some trully unique terrain.

We used an inclinometer to measure a few of the steeper parts of the couloirs we were skiing and got readings in the high forties to low fifties, which was really fun when we were skiing the pockets of pure sugar powder, and really sketchy when we found ourselves on straight up ice. Still, the most interesting part of the day may have been when we got back to a dead Suby and had to spend the next several hours in a Sierra City bar waiting for a ride from Truckee (Thanks Sarah!). But that might have to be a story for another time.

As Ryan Salm and the Gaffney brother’s also found out we had a great burst of some really heavy winds prior to this glorious storm. I passed on Tahoe Vista to surf Sand Harbor Monday and found mostly sloppy conditions that did however hold many fun surfable waves. Timing is everything with surfing the Lake. One minute it looks all-time, the next minute you’re paddling for a double-over-ankle gutless wave in freezing water wondering what the hell you’re doing out there. This session wasn’t as good as that October session at Tahoe Vista we reported on, but surfing the Lake is always a treat especially when it can be paired with a few turns in the morning.

But now we’re back where we want to be. A few feet have already fallen and Thursday through next Wednesday has snow in the forecast every day. The multi-week wait for white-room conditions is over and if today is any indication for what’s to come I’m more than happy to say we’re in for a good one.

Avalanche danger spiked to a 3 on the danger rose today. While I did not see any major signs of instabilities the wind slab development I mentioned earlier in the post is what I would say holds the most concern for any skiers and riders heading out to the backcountry over the next few days. I did not notice much sluff running today, but as more snow falls the potential for instabilities with new storm snow will get much higher. As always, check in with the boys at SAC for the most up-to-date info (, make sure you shred with a partner, and get ready to feel those legs burn because we have some major pow days on the way!

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