State of the Tahoe Backcountry 2011: XVIII

State of the Tahoe Backcountry 2011: XVIII

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State of the Tahoe Backcountry 2011: XVIII

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The story of the week has been the return of winter like conditions throughout the greater Tahoe Basin. With anywhere from 1-3 feet of new snow falling from Saturday night through Wednesday morning powder skiing has been plentiful this week, while most regular backcountry hits in our zone have been treated to a major reset. 

Even though some people are ready for the onslaught of snow that’s fallen this season to finally go away for good, when it snows in May, what’s better than another powder day? I totally understand. We’ve had a huge year, we live in California, so when late spring arrives it’s pretty alluring to ditch the skis for a bike, climbing rack, running shoes, or whatever other outdoor activities you’re into. But let’s be real here. It snows in Tahoe, sometimes it snow a lot, and it’s not uncommon to get a dump in May, June, or even July for that matter. Remember last year at this time? Who’s to say “it shouldn’t snow”? Why not just go with it and get on the best local conditions currently available? It’s sure not a native single-track, and the rock is pretty slick too, but who cares right now-there’s powder to ski!

Don’t get me wrong, I love when the seasons change too, but after waking up to this on Sunday it was clear some fresh snow had to be skied this week.

From Luther Pass to Donner it seems like skiers and riders were getting after it all week. There wasn’t as much backcountry traffic as say a month ago, but those who ventured out looking for some powder turns have definitely been treated to a great few days around the Lake. It sounds like Rose and the Carson Range didn’t get much out of these disturbances, but the upper elevations of Squaw received 30+ inches, while other areas of the Sierra Crest collected up to another foot.

Although some were getting their late season fixes in this week, Monday afternoon I shared the Jake’s parking lot with exactly one other car. When I left, the whole lot was empty (aprox. 3 p.m.). A great sticky skin track was had on the up,

and a whole lot of open canvass was there to paint once at the top.

Sunday’s champagne snow was still somewhat available on Monday, but just a few hundred feet down from the summit major settling started to occur before the lower flanks were almost fully hot-pow. I did rip a small wet slide on my lower run down Jake’s, but given the warm temps and convex rolling terrain I was skiing through the rip was isolated and anticipated.

Tuesday’s mission to Maggie’s proved to be another worthy effort. Although the snow, even on the protected north aspects, had changed quite a bit in the last 24 hours, the new snow that was falling as my crew and I skinned up made for an amazing top layer surface to slide down during our descent.

Here’s most of the crew on the way up,

with Ben,

and Kevin enjoying some fluff on the way down.

We actually got off our intended run on the descent, but were fully stoked to get a great ski down into Eagle Lake with a few nice turns in this mini couloir as well. Here’s James turning,

and Ben pointing it.

Wednesday was supposed to be “the day” in my mind, and although it was indeed an epic May powder day, just the slightest hint of sun that poked out unexpectedly (the forecast called for snow and cloudy skies for most of the day) changed the snow in an instant.

Still, Ben and I were grinning ear-to-ear with bottomless smooth powder and barely a track in sight. The view down from Angora out to Fallen Leaf Lake and Tahoe never gets old.

Thursday is the major question. Will it still be smooth and bottomless? Or will the suns intense May rays wreak havoc on all the new stuff? Snow flurries and clouds redeveloped late Wednesday, so higher north shots should still be pretty good, but the lower shots on Angora were already moving towards full cement mode by mid-day Wednesday-it’s really tough to say what Thursday will bring. Regardless, if you’re interested, with fresh snow blanketing our local peaks it’s probably a good call to give it a check Thursday, and then we’ll see if we’re lucky enough to have something worthy hanging on for Friday. Some weather instability is predicted for Saturday through Monday, but then it looks like a return to springtime weather and some solid sun for the rest of the ten-day forecast.

As far as avalanche concerns go watch out for how this new snow continues to settle, bond, and change with daytime warming. This time of year new snow is even more susceptible (than normal) to rapid alteration when even the slightest bit of sun starts heating the snowpack. Wet slides will be happening in the next few days so keep an eye out for your partner(s), choose your ascent/descent terrain wisely, and enjoy a few more pow turns while you can.

Parting Shot: While skin wax is a mandatory to start keeping in your pack this time of year, it’s also extremely handy to keep minimally one (preferably two or three) ski straps in your pack. I had the tip of one of my skins pull off the other day and unless I had a ski strap to use as a backup I would’ve missed out on some really sweet skiing. The recommendation for two or three comes from the many ways ski straps are useful for the backcountry skier; from synching together your ski tips while boot-packing, to building a rescue sled out of skis, poles, and a backpack during an emergency.

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