Still waiting. That’s the current pattern here in Tahoe, waiting for that one dump to really gets things going for our local backcountry. There’s high hopes that this weekend’s storm system will provide what we’re looking for, but we could really use some concrete to set up a base before such a system drops incredibly light snow that may fall as low as 2,000 feet in elevation.
In reality, it’s all good. We’ll take whatever we can get right now, and perhaps the best part about this incoming system is that “the storm door” will be open for a bit. That said, although the options are minimal, there are a few locales around the greater Tahoe area holding skiable stretches of snow, dare I say even a few powder turns. It may because the Lake Tahoe Backcountry Vertical Challenge just kicked off and I felt as though some skiing was warranted, or it might have been because of the recent beta my buddy Toby passed along, but either way it seemed as though a trip south to Carson Pass was in order to see what sort of turns could be found in the greater Tahoe backcountry.
Carson Pass, located at the far southern stretches of the Tahoe area on the way to Kirkwood, commonly holds snow year-round regardless of the size of the winter. It’s usually a great place to find quality early season turns and can serve up great skiing well into the summer months as well. Currently, even with a starting point of almost 8,600 feet, the overall conditions are thin heading out to the centerpiece peak in the area known as Round Top (elevation 10,381′).
Nearby Elephant’s Back, the East Bowl of Round Top, and the Sisters make for great ski tours, but could all use a bit more snow before being really skiable yet for the season. So could Round Top, although that’s also where I’d venture to say some of the best skiing in the Tahoe area is currently found. Round Top is best known for the classic Crescent Couloir (aka Moon Crescent) that jets down from its summit. There’s also a couloir that starts just skiers right of the main Crescent Couloir, which is generally referred to a the Crescent Alternate, and even a third couloir that I tend to call the Hidden Couloir to climber’s far left. My buddy who was up there a few days ago left a few tracks in the Crescent Couloir although his report didn’t exactly make me want to follow his lead. Along with another friend these two backcountry regulars didn’t get to ski from the top, and apparently dealt with more ice from the old snow of last season than any new snow that had been deposited in the past several weeks.
They still had a good time, of course, but this beta cased me to think that the Hidden Couloir was probably skiable from the top, and more than worth a few hours of effort to go give Carson Pass a check. Linking up with Tom Waclo, who was understandably still jazzed from skiing glorious powder in the Bloody Couloir last week, we took a trip down yesterday and found a little bit of everything.
We were able to skin from the car, and even though it’s really thin out there, it was still nice to break some trail through parts of the meadow were all that we found was super soft powder. The skin was quick into Mokelumne Wilderness and out to Winnemucca Lake before climbing the thin slopes to the base of Round Top and its three beautiful couloirs. The Hidden Couloir can really only be seen in its entirety when you climb to the base of it, or is a much easier scope when driving from the Kirkwood area back towards Lake Tahoe.
There was evidence of other people having been up in the zone recently, and in the Hidden Couloir, but there was also evidence that a decent wind event has moved a bunch of snow around since the last users had been up in the area. After our skin and a quick changeover to booting mode at the base of the couloir, Tom and I were at the top of our line in the matter of a few minutes. The line isn’t that long, nor is all that steep, but it’s aesthetic, and usually makes a great early season adventure for anyone that’s interested.
We found a mix of snow conditions in the couloir, but overall it was great early season ski conditions.
The apron out was super enjoyable as we were able to ski mostly soft, shallow powder turns until the bench above Winnemucca Lake where conditions get noticeably thinner.
Very controlled skiing down to the lake led to the traverse out, which right now isn’t as easy as it usually is because of the low tide conditions. Overall it’s slim pickings for skiing in the Tahoe backcountry at present, but if anyone’s looking for a little something heading down to Carson Pass will probably be your best bet for now. Stay safe and let’s hope this weekend’s storm sends us the goods we’re looking for!