We picked up a couple more feet in the high elevations this past week. It’s been a bit of a change from the ridiculously deep conditions that we have been enjoying for the past few weeks, but you have to embrace the return to the unique “Sierra Snow” that makes the dynamic steep terrain of Lake Tahoe shine.
That’s been the call and major highlight over the past week; the local steeps. With pasty thick snow spackling many of the tree stumps, rocks, and other hazards strewn about the amazing terrain we have in the Tahoe Basin, it’s been a lot of fun to see some of this stuff stick in the places we need it to. This is what allows us to get into some of our rader local lines. Don’t get me wrong, I’m an absolute harlot for snow that is deep, light, and soft. Did you catch Ralph’s video this past week? So sick! The stuff we’ve been fortunate to ski a bunch of this season even as far back as November is absolute bliss when it explodes into your face and flies up and over your head with each turn as you bounce down the mountain. But if that’s all we ever wanted to ski we’d go to someplace like Utah, ski a bunch of blower, and rip just as many dust-on-crust days with huge avalanche danger in the backcountry taboot.
We had our own spikes in avi danger this past week, but we also had some of that not-so-much sierra cement but closer to toothpaste type snow that filled in a few places with above average coverage as well. Most of the pictures in this week’s post come from a Tahoe area classic line that rarely if ever “fills in” in a way that most skiers and riders would deem fit. The Fallen Angel Chute is a short but sweet shot that’s skinny, technical, and steep. The main crux is a huge rock that almost never really fills in and creates the visual that you have to huck this 30+ footer and land in an abrupt patch of snow not much wider than a pair of skis. That’s not really what you have to do. You can, but there’s another way with the right snow to ski out past the cliff and take the air at a different and more body friendly trajectory. This move lessens the overall air-time, but ups the fun factor with a tricky straightline that mandates total control over exposure ultimately allowing the rider to line up the new take-off.
The thing is with the right snow, the kind of spackle we got this week, it makes steep skiing, turns over exposure, and billy-goating technical lines like this even more fun than they already are. The snow Jeff Dostie and I found in the chute this past week was perfect. With each turn you were in total control with enough cohesion in the top of the new snow to let you control your speed in the exact manner you needed to in order to ski the line safely and fluidly.
By the time we had each plopped our own little bomb holes under the crux the rest of the skinny chute was smooth as can be. It actually changed just a bit to feel a tad more like classic Sierra cement-the kind that makes you want to rip fast smooth swooping turns down whatever you’re descending.
More reports and personal tests from our greater area confirmed that up until the warming on Tuesday steeps were skiing brilliantly. Squaw has a similar feeling going on Monday. At least on a few lines like the Triple in C2 where getting to the take off was a little dodgy, but the pads themselves were in prime condition for perfect ploppy billy-goat turns. But temperatures did change things a bit on Tuesday, and conditions took a major turn on Wednesday. A splitboarder friend of mine who kills it on a daily basis said he struggled to make a turn on the bottom half of Tallac after getting some pretty good turns in up high. He said the snow had just turned to sludge on Tuesday, and was full on crustified on Wednesday.
As we look into the rest of the week we have a small disturbance coming in on Thursday, what looks to be two beautiful days on Friday and Saturday, followed by more weather starting on Sunday. As far as avalanche concerns, watch out for instabilities with our most recent new snow from Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday with the warming pattern that will continue through mid-week. A few friends reported some major wind slab releases they encountered while skiing steep terrain right after this new snow, although they knew the spot they were in was wind loaded and they expected to see some action. There’s also some danger lingering from the rain crust that developed last week when snow levels spiked high and then dropped back below Lake level. Because of the warming and cooling trends from our recent storm activity, coupled with wind transport there are some concerns with these instabilities lingering throughout the week. It’s a matter of terrain selection as there are many areas that are bonding and settling well, but open areas more easily influenced by cross loading, wind slab development, and temperatures that will hover in the low 50’s the next few days will be more prone to failure.
As we move closer to the first day of spring and have close to 500 total inches that have already fallen at or near the Sierra Crest, options continue to grow for adventures into our local backcountry. Hopefully you’ve taken notice of the Donner Party Video Contest Tim and Adam are putting on, and you’ll be posting your personal highlights from the International Day of GNAR. I’ll be looking forward to catching up on what’s sure to be some all-time the footage when I get back in town as I’m about to take a brief hiatus from the Sierra to check out some backcountry skiing up in Cordova Alaska with Points North Heli-Adventures. Look for a State of the Alaskan Backcountry post in the next week or so, and have fun getting into some Donner Summit gnar-gnar.
P.S. Don’t forget to pole whack!