The second edition of this season's State of the Tahoe Backcountry! State of the Tahoe Backcountry 2012-2013: II | Unofficial Networks

State of the Tahoe Backcountry 2012-2013: II

State of the Tahoe Backcountry 2012-2013: II

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State of the Tahoe Backcountry 2012-2013: II

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Derrick Scott nears the top of Rubicon Peak.

Hello skiers and riders! Welcome to winter! With the solstice passing it’s officially our favorite time of the year again, and Mother Nature has more than provided. When all is said and done with our recent storm action we could be counting up to six feet+ of new snow on the upper reaches of the Sierra Crest. Houses are buried, streets are caked, and the Tahoe backcountry is finally filling in.

In the past few weeks since the first preseason edition of the State of the Tahoe Backcountry there has been quite a bit of fluctuation in terms of skiability in the Tahoe Basin. Overall, we’ve had skiable snow in our area since late October and when juxtaposed with what we were dealing with last year at this time there’s really nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile. Generally, the highest quality skiing has been focused on our high elevation access points such as Castle Peak, the Mt. Rose area, and in and around Carson Pass.

Jillian Raymond enjoying perfect powder and perfect views on the West Shore.

Through the end of November and early December I’d say Mt. Rose has probably seen the most action for North Shore backcountry users. There were some truly memorable days that brought quality surf conditions to Lake Tahoe (check out Ryan Salm’s piece on ESPN for more stoke on Tahoe surfing) with more than a few stellar powder days in the Tamarack Peak region. Carson Pass has also been solid with a few standout days had on the classic Red Lake Peak, and in recent days the venerable Waterhouse Peak has also filled in allowing South Shore snow sliders to tap into their most reliable storm day tree skiing terrain off Luther Pass.

However, for almost the last two weeks Tahoe’s famed West Shore has been seeing an increase in action. Objectives found in the Ward Canyon area have offered a higher starting point and thus less combat skiing at the lower elevations, but turns have been laid on all the classics to the south from Rubicon on down to Mt. Tallac. In sum the skiing has been nothing short of phenomenal at the higher elevations. Until this most recent storm arrived I had some of my best turns of the season up on Tallac, with equally good skiing found on the upper reaches of Maggies as well on the West Shore proper. That said, there’s been a very distinct snowline in the greater Tahoe area, which is why the best skiing and greatest chance of not hitting rocks and other thin cover obstacles have been at places like Mt. Rose and Carson Pass (above 7,500′).

The alpenglow sets in atop Maggies South accentuating the already beautiful views of Lake Tahoe, Emerald Bay, Granite Lake, Cascade Lake, Nieve the dog and a whole bunch of fresh snow.

I haven’t had too many opportunities to make it south to the Eastern Sierra yet this season, but there have been a few high quality days spent in the greater region. Much like Tahoe, higher elevation locales are where the best skiing has been found, but that should change after all is aid and done with these most recent storms as the Mammoth area is expecting to pick up close to five feet. You can check out a few words and some pics on a recent Eastside mission over at Powder.

Allison Lightcap and Jeff Dostie took their time clicking back in to ski out of Virginia Lakes. The sunset show was so vibrant our awestruck crew of five ended up skiing back to the cars by headlamp.

Looking ahead this next week is going to be about as much as we could ask for in terms of a white Christmas. And the precipitation isn’t done just yet. By midweek there could be six to even seven feet of new snow on top of our local peaks, with another disturbance coming in late Tuesday into Wednesday where an extra one to two feet could drop. After that we’re most likely looking at a dry spell until just after the New Year or possibly longer, but you never know, and if this next storm pans out resorts should have close to 50% of their average snowfall for the winter and we’ll barely be a week into the true winter season. Are you fired up or what?

Allison, Seth and Jessie Lightcap break the last few feet of trail through the softest snow I’ve ever experienced in Mt. Tallac’s North Bowl.

In regards to what’s going on with our local snowpack unfortunately things are not all that straightforward. While the deepest turns of the season were had the past couple of days on Tahoe’s West Shore avalanche danger remains high and for good reason. The easiest way to comprehend what’s going on is we have lingering weak layers in our snowpack, with high winds and lots of snow falling at different temperatures that have loaded on top of what we already had.

Toby Schwindt enjoying every last perfect drop in Tallac’s North Bowl.

What we’re most concerned with are two persistent weak layers (PWL’s) that formed from events in early and mid December. In the past few weeks mitigation was more manageable, but because these layers are buried by a large amount of new snow with more on the way high caution is advised. The trickiest thing about these PWL’s is they are not uniformly found throughout the snowpack, sort of like what we had going on last spring for a solid period of time. What you should know is terrain selection is paramount in order to safely access the Tahoe backcountry and be able to enjoy your soreness at the end of a quality day.

Even before these most recent storms Tallac was offering insanely good snow on its upper reaches. Rider: Seth Lightcap

The areas where the greatest instabilities exist are on the aspects we want to ski the most (NW-N-NE) at elevations above 7,500 feet to the tops of our peaks. If a slide is triggered involving these layers the results will be catastrophic, so again, and as always, choose your objective wisely and don’t feel as though you have to top out on a peak or get into your favorite steep pitch just because you haven’t seen anything pop. With the snow we have currently even low to moderate angled tree skiing has been insanely good, and plenty deep. Don’t let the human factor influence you and you’ll be stoked at the end of the day.

Allison Lightcap rips into some perfect powder on Mt. Tallac.

Another high area of concern are persistent wind slabs that have already played a role in snow stability prior to these most recent storms. With increased winds and fluctuations in the temperature of freshly falling snow (much warmer snow and observed temps on Sunday versus the lighter bouncier snow that fell on Friday and Saturday) these slabs are gaining cohesiveness, are again laying on top of PWL’s, and are also facilitating upside-down snowpack conditions.

Self Portrait. 12/22/12. Deep, light, bottomless. West Shore, Lake Tahoe Backcountry, CA.

Jeremy Frumkin enjoys a momentary state of pure bliss. West Shore, Lake Tahoe Backcountry, CA.

As we welcome 2013 to Tahoe we’re just a few days into the true winter season and everyday has been a pow day. Between your permagrins and high-fives take the time these next few days and everyday to keep updated with the Sierra Avalanche Center forecasts, make safe informed decisions before you head out each day, and enjoy the unique opportunities we have as Tahoe backcountry skiers and riders to safely experience some of the best backcountry skiing on planet earth. I’ll leave you for now with a wish for a Happy Holidays and a video I strongly feel should be watched by every person that has any interest or connection to winter backcountry use. It’s an exceptionally crafted video by a few of the best people in Tahoe, in partnership with one of the best non-profits in Tahoe. It’s honestly one of those projects where my pride in Tahoe and its amazing people swell beyond recognition. We have such an amazing backyard filled so many amazing people and this video is a clear example of just that. Enjoy, and please pass this on to as many interested parties as possible!

This edition of “State of the Tahoe Backcountry” is sponsored by Alpenglow Sports. Established in 1979, Alpenglow Sports is Tahoe City’s original mountain shop. Specializing in backcountry and Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, trail running, backpacking, hiking, camping, and the mountain lifestyle apparel, Alpenglow is always psyched to offer premier user-based customer service.

You can check into more regular “State of the Backcountry” conditions reports through its Facebook page linked here.

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