State of the Tahoe Backcountry 2011: IX

State of the Tahoe Backcountry 2011: IX


State of the Tahoe Backcountry 2011: IX


What a difference a few storms make. Tack on another 3-4 feet this past week and conditions have been nothing short of stellar throughout the greater Tahoe area. Most people I spoke with over the past several days have been “complaining” about how sore and tired they are, all the while finishing their whining with a huge powder drenched smile. Feels good doesn’t it?

This past weekend was a bit of junk show in the Basin especially at the resorts. I opted for a few lift serviced sessions myself and was quickly reminded about why ski resorts are not so fun on the weekends. Sure, snow quality like this last storm dictates whether or not it’s worthy, but the hordes and hordes of people still make it a pretty tough call to wait in lines when you could be out in the freshness of the backcountry.

Taking into account the very low snow levels from Friday with the cold smoke being kicked up inbounds Saturday my buddy Dan and I gambled on a backcountry line I have been eyeing for a while in the Carson Range. The longest possible descent one can do in the Tahoe area is from the top of Job’s Peak all the way down to the Carson Valley floor in Gardnerville. Up to 5500 vertical feet can be skied under the right conditions. We didn’t want to ski Job’s this time, but we did want to ski one of the “11’s” that drop down off of Job’s sub peak. 

Our gamble paid off, ten-fold. The whole Carson Valley floor was covered in snow Sunday morning-a phenomenon that doesn’t really happen that much and for surely doesn’t stick around for too long. At the trailhead the sun had already begun to change the snow and create crust growth on the east facing aspects. No worries, we figured the almost flat bottom through sagebrush would be poor quality anyway. What we didn’t fully count on was as we gained elevation and moved over to the north aspect that the snow would be so light and perfect, even below 5,000 feet. In the “11” chute we choose to ski, the one with more north in it, pristine powder caked our line from the sagebrush line all the way to the very top.

Continuing our climb, which went by relatively fast for the first 2/3rd’s of the roughly 4500 foot line, we were dumbfounded with such ideal conditions. It’s exactly what we had hoped for, but we still didn’t think it was going to happen. When the chute got steeper things got a bit more difficult as skinning became horrendous due to light snow being stripped away by the weight of our skis on top of a firm bed surface. So we started booting. That worked for a while until the chute angle changed slightly again and we found ourselves booting in anywhere from boot to waist deep snow. The boot depth was glory. We could almost run up the thing. But the waist deep, what we knew would be unreal to ski, was ridiculous to climb, or should I say, wallow up.    

When all was said and done the final 1,000 vertical feet took us much longer than it should have, but standing at the top of our line was pure zen. A surreal look out into the Nevada desert, great views south to Ebbett’s Pass, Mt. Rose to the north, and this crazy shadow of the Job’s sub peak growing into the Carson Valley as the sun moved west characterized our vantage.

The best part was 4500 feet of continuously boot to thigh deep powder. The only longer run I’ve had in the Tahoe area has been off Job’s proper, but never have I had such a long run in our immediate zone with such high quality snow.

Other reports around the Lake and beyond confirmed if you were on it before the winds kicked up Sunday night and Monday you could ski some amazingly random and obscure lines in perfect snow. People were hitting lines off I-80 that rarely see tracks in blower conditions. If you haven’t seen the 91 Octane pictures and videos posted earlier on the site do so-now. Those boys really took advantage with their sleds to hit some West Slope gnar in ideal conditions.

When the winds picked up Monday conditions changed quite a bit depending on where you wanted to ski. Protected north facing shots were still glory as Julian Hanna shows of in these last two shots, but the steeps we had hoped to ski on Monday were blown to smithereens. And I mean blown, as in, perfect smooth powder on the north face of the peak we were on and death-ice-windboard-chop-funk on other aspects. The sun had its way with anything exposed and west, east, or south facing, and we had ourselves a mini epic before heading back to the goodness of the protected north slopes.

As we greet March another storm system is rolling in although this time we’re not looking at too much precipitation and temperatures are going to be a bit warmer.  Still, we could see a foot up high by Thursday. By then Saturday’s storm should develop more so we can get a solid gauge for what this system might bring. Some models are saying snowline could spike as high as 7,000 feet while snowfall totals are not concrete quite yet.

On the avalanche side of things there was a lot of activity with this recent storm system. A snowboarder got buried off Mt.Ralston ( and several other reports of wind slab instabilities were shared and visualized while touring this past week. Temperatures have gotten pretty warm the past two days and some wind slab danger still exists in isolated pockets and on certain lines that got cross loaded. I saw some crazy snow conditions that I didn’t think would have existed after skiing the Job’s chute and so much powder over the past week. It just goes to show that with wind, sun, and aspect everything can change in an instant. As this new storm covers the Basin Tuesday night into Wednesday winds will pick up again and stability in the backcountry will change. Keep reading the SAC reports and look for a possible foot plus of new by Friday morning, which for now looks to be yet another glorious bluebird powder day.

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