Patience is a virtue; rock boards are mandatory. That about sums up the current state of the Tahoe backcountry as we inch closer to ending 2013, and look to welcome 2014. There’s no doubt when taking into consideration the total snow that’s fallen this fall, we’re lucky there’s been any backcountry skiing at all. Sporadic light snowfalls with one solid two-footer that unfortunately came in much colder than we would’ve liked is what we’re working with. Compound that with the ongoing trend of sunny skies and the sincere hope for a wetter January, and there you have our present status.
A quick blast of 3-6 inches gave us a little something to work with this past week, but east winds quickly followed blowing much of the new snow off desired slopes. Fun pockets and slivers have been found with NW-N-NE aspects offering the only game in town, the higher the better. Thin cover is still a major issue as is the overall integrity of Tahoe’s marginal snowpack. In fact, SAC has continued offering moderate avalanche advisories based on consistent weak layer observations.
In reality, as several of this editions’ shots speak to, creativity and low expectations have yielded more than a few fun days in the field. However, your tolerance for early season obstacles, inconsistent snow and a threshold for adventure must be alive and well in order to fully enjoy what’s out there.
The best backcountry skiing in the greater Tahoe area continues to be most easily accessible from our local mountain passes. Overall, Donner Pass, Mt. Rose and Carson Passes are thin, but that’s still where the most-trustworthy conditions have been found as of late and thus far this season. Exploratory snow sliders have found some quality pockets on West Shore locales as well as elsewhere across the greater zone, but the steady trend of a ribbon of goods into scraping rocks has remained constant no matter where one chooses to tour.
The good news is fall is finally over and we have winter and spring to look forward too. It’s hard to not harp on the weather-especially at this point, but when it snows, it snows, and when you’re skiing via human power you work with what’s stuck to the mountains. We’re working with very little right now, so it’s best to take advantage of the Sugar Bowl uphill policy, tour where you feel competent enough to mitigate early season backcountry skiing hazards and be prepared for when it does dump.
That’s the thing with the Sierra. Slow starts and stretches of little to no precipitation are no strangers to our neck of the woods because it always comes, and when it does let’s hope it’s big enough to really get things going. Enjoy exploring, and here’s to welcoming a new year and a hopefully safe, much wetter, active pattern in 2014.
“State of the 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.
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Previous “State of the Backcountry” Reports from the 2013-2014 season: