In the last week the state of the Tahoe backcountry has fluctuated between its highest and lowest points of the season. State of the Tahoe Backcountry 2012: VII | Sponsored by Cloudveil | Unofficial Networks

State of the Tahoe Backcountry 2012: VII | Sponsored by Cloudveil

State of the Tahoe Backcountry 2012: VII | Sponsored by Cloudveil

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State of the Tahoe Backcountry 2012: VII | Sponsored by Cloudveil

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In the last week the state of the Tahoe backcountry has fluctuated between its highest and lowest points of the season. At the mid point of last week everyone was reveling in the return of winter to the area. At the time the new snowfall had people as stoked as could be easily claiming and experiencing the best conditions of the season.

For a brief period of hours that was in fact the case. However, in a tightly knit community such as Tahoe there is absolutely nothing that can overshadow or replace loosing a member of our community, never mind twoIt’s been said many times over-the mountains give, and the mountains take. Last Thursday and Friday they took. As previously reported, Benny Brackett, and Daniel Kuhner, both passed away due to avalanche accidents in the Tahoe backcountry on these days. Unofficial continues to send our most sincere thoughts, prayers, and condolences to the friends, family, and all involved in each incident.

According to the Sierra Sun, “A celebration of Benny Brackett’s life will take place at 5 p.m. Thursday, March 15, at Olympic Village Inn at the base of Squaw Valley.” As of the printing of this report no information is available about a planned service for Daniel Kuhner. Please feel free to update us with any findings as they become available.

Based on our deep community losses the tone of the week went from jubilant to weary in the matter of a few hours, and for good reason. Skiing in the backcountry was extremely touchy this week even before these unfortunate accidents. Wednesday and Thursday saw most of the terrain being skied by users to stay within what’s reasonably considered by the community as low angle trees. That trend continued throughout the week from the North to South Shores with wide reports of instability issues throughout our greater snowpack.

By Friday the sun came out, the temps started to spike, and most backcountry trailheads stayed full throughout the weekend.

While out with some friends on Saturday we enjoyed an initial early lap of smooth, cold snow before conditions dramatically changed by our second lap. Not only that but other friends of ours who were also on the same peak, but skinning up a different part of the mountain reported hearing an incredibly audible whumpf. Another member of that party was reported to have been about 400 feet away and could actually feel the whumpf in her vicinity. With temperatures rising, the knowledge of the persistent weak layer very much in play, and the whumpfing report being shared via cell phone our crew quickly stopped, switched over, and went down to the lake to where it most certainly felt and looked like a warm spring day.

With the warm temps in play skiing on Tallac and other West Shore peaks continued to fare well during the early morning hours for the following few days, but the heat made drastic impacts by early afternoon and even as early as mid-morning.  However, needless to say at this point the persistent weak layer in our snowpack continues to be the real story. It’s spooky, uncharacteristic of “normal” conditions in the Sierra Nevada, and continues to be prevalent. The warm temperatures also continued through the weekend running on into Monday before the most recent storm blew through our forecast area bringing a host of different conditions.

Tahoe Weather Discussion reported a sizeable range in Tahoe resorts getting anywhere from 3-17″ inches of new snow with most of the snow falling south of the lake. While the past few days have seen sheltered areas protected from big NE-E winds boasting cold snow and skiing well, again on lower angle heavily tree’d slopes, the truth of what’s going on can be most accurately summed up in recent snow stability tests conducted by everyday backcountry users from Alpenglow Sports as well as the Sierra Avalanche Center (SAC). Wednesday’s test results can been seen in the post put up by Miles. I’d also like to especially highlight the advice given once again to check in on SAC each and everyday if you ever plan to head out into the backcountry. SAC provides the Tahoe backcountry community an invaluable resource every single day and should always be respected and acknowledged for the amazing work they do.

Looking ahead our forecast looks to be clear until Sunday or Monday when precipitation is due to start impacting our area again. Right now models are differing on how strong these systems will be. Some have called for several light to moderate events, some have called for snow levels above 7000′ feet at times, while still others have pointed to a potentially prolonged period of strong activity. Of course only time will tell, but the real take home for this past week and the week ahead is closely watching the evolution of the current persistent weak layer buried beneath all the new recent snow in our snowpack, primarily on NW-N-NE slopes.

In addition, in unfortunate times like these remember that no one ever plans on going out into the backcountry and not returning home that evening, just like no one plans on heading to Squaw one day and not returning home as well. Accidents happen and they happen to the best, most knowledgeable people at times. All we can do is make the best decisions we possibly can on a day-to-day basis, manage and mitigate risk as diligently as possible, and feel strong in our convictions to make such choices to go out into the mountains in the first place. Be safe this week and every week, and always live each day to the fullest.

 

 

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