State of the Tahoe Backcountry 2011: VIII

State of the Tahoe Backcountry 2011: VIII


State of the Tahoe Backcountry 2011: VIII


What’s left to ponder? The results are in amigos. 8-12 feet of snow feel throughout the Tahoe Basin over the past week and the snow sliding has been nothing short of legendary. It started last Wednesday morning with a few feet overnight and then accelerated from there. Streets buried, cars stuck in their own driveways, beards so caked and heavy with snow guys are walking around hunched over from the added weight-this is what it’s all about.  

Squaw was as fun as it gets this past week. Hucks galore and the kind of face shots that aren’t really face shots but more like a tunneling sensation a gopher or mole must feel when they burrow through dirt. I’ve never really had so much snow go up my nose while skiing. It was an other worldly sensation. I actually came close to hitting a few trees in Enchanted Forest because turns were not happening in a regular way. There was too much white stuff clouding my vision.  

After feeling how ridiculous the snow was at Squaw before the weekend junk show arrived my buddy Jeremy and I started to day dream how deep the West Shore would be. That’s why we rationalized a trip to Jakes last Friday morning and passed on early Squaw laps; just to see how deep it really was. Guess what? I’ll never say too deep, BUT, it was ridiculously deep. I mean, it was funny, like in a comedic sort of way. There were nine of us trading the duties of breaking trail and I got my first ever face shot from skinning. I was so deep on steeper switchbacks while breaking powder would fly up and hit you in the face. Insane! We rounded out the day at Squaw after a few lower laps on Jakes which held, literally, some of the deepest turns of my life. It was barely skiing but the constant laughing and white room that came from our time on this morning was worthy to say the least. A lot off pictures in this week’s post can attest to that.

During the cycle I didn’t notice too much instability, however the top layer of the snow pack was so light and airy it had no bonding properties to the consolidating snow below it. It just sheared off and moved with you without much weight to affect it. It was sluff, but because we weren’t skiing anything too steep it wasn’t like the sluff we’re used to. It was really just the new storm snow that was fully loose. There was also so much snow I didn’t feel good about getting on anything with the pitch we really wanted to ski. The risk was just too high. But then all of sudden things started to settle by Saturday. It was still deep, bottomless, and overhead face shots when you laid into a trench-town turn, but the overall experience was much more slider friendly than the previous few days. Avalanche danger dropped considerably, although with so much new snow choosing the best and safest terrain to ski was still essential.  

As the snow settled out Mt. Tallac and the steeps of Angora/Echo Peak held some truly memorable runs the past few days. With a crew from Truckee and Tahoe City amped at making the drive the three of us punched a skin track up the North Bowl of Tallac on Monday and were the first ones to sit on the top of our local giant after all this new snow. After running through several scenarios as to what we should ride given the literally epic conditions we settled with, as I’ve previously mentioned in another post, my favorite couloir in Tahoe. Julien, a guide extraordinaire and good friend that just returned from a crazy mission guiding and working in Antarctica had never been in so we let him drop it first. He wasn’t disappointed to say the least.

From there we put in a short boot pack to drop into a line I know as “Off-Camber Chute”. I’ve never really heard it called anything else. The line is lookers left of the hanging snowfield and I wouldn’t send anyone here unless they’ve studied the line rigorously. It looks like it’s pretty manageable for the technical rider, which it is, but it was steeper and way more exposed than I initially thought. It was also insanely deep and three of us were full on blown away with high quality and high fun factor of this line, especially when coupled with a run down Baby Cham.


The Tallac session was followed up with another classic in the Fallen Leaf Lake area. Having gotten the perfect look at Halls of the Gods from the top of Tallac on Monday, and noticing it had no tracks it was hard to say no the following day.

So I headed off with a different crew of three to tag this one. Much to our surprise, even after a slow start and taking the long way we arrived on top first, just before another party was coming up from the opposite direction. Having skied the top of the alternate entrance to the cross to get to Baby Cham and the Off Camber Chute the day before I had a pretty good idea of how snow was holding up on the steeps. We got a few small surface releases that were mainly small wind slabs, but nothing major to move. When there’s lots of pow and steeps seem stable this is the time to ski Halls. It was perfect.

Skinning out was tough as there was so much quality terrain and snow to shred back there, but since we had taken the long way through the burn area of lower Echo Peak, we still had a few thousand vertical feet of soft north facing powder to shred.

Now with legs burning and many skiers and riders hobbling from all the amazing snow they’ve been killing the past week we’re looking for another few feet to fall from Thursday through Saturday. Reports keep indicating that this is going to be a very cold storm and will be capable of bringing another 4+ feet to the high elevations of Tahoe by Sunday. While avalanche danger is currently low, moderate danger is still hanging on some north aspects so keep a watchful eye out when you’re touring. I’ve been primarily concerned with wind slab and wind loaded zones the past few days, but really for the terrain I’ve been on we’ve had no major events. Still, as the winds pick up and more snow falls this weekend that will obviously change so stay informed and get ready for another round of brilliance. With explosive powder everywhere, lines and peaks filling in from north to south, it just doesn’t get much better than this!

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