Just like you I hope all this “split flow” talk doesn’t become a dominant theme to our season in the Sierra. Even still there’s no sense in hating on it, so with a forecast like we’ve had migrations were in order. The good thing is we’re still a few weeks away from the winter solstice and the season is young. While patience may be a virtue, that still doesn’t help us Californians out all that much, especially with early season videos from places like Baker coming in, especially if you’re jonesin’ for pow.
I’ll leave the heavy weather forecasting to our unofficial weather guy, but generally speaking, what’s happened during past periods of split flows for Tahoe is often the northern end of the southern split will hit Mammoth, and the lower end of the northern split will impact the southern end of the Cascade Range. There’s not so much of that southern action happening down Mammoth’s way currently, but the system that just ravaged the Pacific Northwest did drop several feet of new snow on Mt. Shasta, which meant a Shastafarian powder migration from Tahoe was in order.
For most of last week Shasta got pounded. Overall Mt. Shasta still looks somewhat thin, but the white glow noticed Friday morning as I got closer to the mountain was a welcome site. As reported by our boy Eric the Lassen area didn’t really get as much of this precipitation as the Shasta region, but has a bit more snow than anywhere in Tahoe. The zone still looked good on the drive-by, reasonably snow covered, but just a little bit more north it was obvious from the dramatic snowline of green to white trees that Shasta had received a more copious brunt of this recent precipitation event.
For three days Jillian, myself, our dogs and friends Toby and Adam did what we could to try and play with aspect and slope to maximize powder skiing potential post-storm. If the split flow pattern continues the Shasta area, roughly 4-5 hours for most of us in Tahoe is a trip, but a reasonable migration for some necessary powder skiing. It’s about the same drive from the Bay Area as well. The upper reaches of Mt.Shasta proper are really tough to nail when heavy winds and bright sunny skies immediately follow several feet of new snow, which is what happened last week, but lower on the flanks of Mt. Shasta proper, and within the vicinity of the city of Mt. Shasta are several other areas to seek out legit backcountry skiing opportunities.
Since it’s still early season in the Shasta area we chose to use the aid the Bunny Flat Rd. provides, which takes users to almost 7k feet. Snowline hovered for this past series of storms with accumulating snow falling fairly low, but the brunt of the heavy precipitation fell above the 6k foot mark. The road up to Bunny Flat is maintained year round, which is amazing in terms of access, but takes you to southern side of the mountain which is a little tougher to work with when you’re looking for prime powder conditions.
There’s a great deal of quality backcountry skiing terrain in this area, but if you’re using the elevation advantage of the Bunny Flat Rd. like we did, searching for pow, your touring will probably be centered to the climbers right off Old Ski Bowl Rd. The first day after the storm cleared our crew stayed on low angle terrain that is sheltered by trees and known to locals as the Powder Bowl. It is really mellow terrain, but very fun powder skiing and is easily located on a decent map of the region. It’s a great call to scratch a powder itch when avalanche danger is high in the area.
Another option, which is where we spent the last two days of our trip, is to ski tour to what’s known as Grey Butte. This is a relatively small zone in comparison to what’s around you on Mt. Shasta proper, but also gives you the best chance to ski with a N-NW aspect that is really difficult to find elsewhere on Mt. Shasta when accessing ski terrain from Bunny Flat. But when powder is a scarce resource at home, there’s very little fresh snow to the south, and it just snowed a few feet to the north you won’t be hung up about the vert on Grey Butte.
Once you put in the skintrack at the base you essentially have your own ski hill to lap as many times as you can handle. It’s mostly comprised of a perfectly picthed face that is full of trees, but it has several corridors wide enough to open it up as fast as you’d like as well. It also holds a skiable pitch off the backside, offers incredible views of Mt. Shasta proper, and even has a few technical features that can entertain a wealth of creative pursuits.
While Mt. Shasta usually stirs up thoughts of perfect corn, if this split flow thing hangs around long enough at least you know you can also score some really fun powder skiing up there, especially when the rest of the local Shasta terrain comes into play. It may not be Baker, and it may not be home, but it’s all relative at the end of the day when a little extra effort is offered, and a moderate migration leaves you with all-you-can-ski powder turns as a result.