State of the Tahoe Backcountry 2014: VI | Sponsored by Alpenglow Sports

State of the Tahoe Backcountry 2014: VI | Sponsored by Alpenglow Sports

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State of the Tahoe Backcountry 2014: VI | Sponsored by Alpenglow Sports

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If this shot doesn't get you fired up, hopefully the latest forecast will. Rider: Julien Hanna

If this shot doesn’t get you fired up, hopefully the latest forecast will. Rider: Julien Hanna

On the heels of a much needed journey to find a snowier state of winter, the return home to Tahoe brought two important things to light. The first is that even in the midst of such a poor start to our ski season, there is in fact soft snow to ski in the backcountry. Two, the forecast models have finally changed enough to warrant some legitimate stoke for our ski community.

A hidden gem, deep in the Granite Chief Wilderness.

A hidden gem, deep in the Granite Chief Wilderness.

The shots that accompany this edition of State of the Backcountry were taken on the North, West and South Shores over the past week. All of them showcase powder riding in some form. From more easily accessible panels off Carson Pass, to slightly harder to reach sections of the West Shore, and more effort intensive locales in Granite Chief Wilderness-if you want to hike and ski recrystallized powder in the greater Tahoe area, it’s out there. Up until this past Monday all you had to do is stay above 8,000 feet, tour NW-N-NE-select E holding aspects, and make sure you mitigated the obvious hazards associated with the low-tide reality we’re living with. As of Monday the cold, crisp snow that’s been holding on got zapped by moisture laden warmth, but the previous several days of dry, cold days were as workable as possible given current snow depths.

Julien Hanna found some of the nicest snow in the Tahoe area...

Julien Hanna found some of the nicest snow in the Tahoe area…

lapping small north-facing nooks that were a bit arduous to get to, but plenty worth it as soon as one turn was made.

lapping small north-facing nooks that were a bit arduous to get too, but plenty worthy as soon as one turn was made.

I completely understand why someone wouldn’t want to spend 10+ hours touring out to ski in the depths of the Granite Chief Wilderness. But if you’d rather backcountry ski than paddleboard, mountain bike or rock climb in January (almost February) then this is about as good as you’re possibly going to get in our forecast area. I’ve actually been pretty impressed with the consistency, quality and amount of soft snow that’s been found over the past several days while exploring-even just a few miles off Highway 88 near Carson Pass. While that should be stoke for some, the real news is the change in weather that’s set to arrive in Tahoe this week.

Breaking a fresh trail only a few miles from the road off Carson Pass.

Breaking a fresh trail only a few miles from the road off Carson Pass.

It's not the chute that's so interesting in this photo, it's the light cloud that cushioned each turn on the descent.

It’s not the chute that’s so interesting in this photo, it’s the light cloud that cushioned each turn on the descent.

Toby Schwindt picks his way through a rocky line with help of a little hidden fluff. Carson Pass, CA

Toby Schwindt picks his way through a rocky line with the help of some hidden fluff.

A nice little cloud to follow, Carson Pass, CA.

A nice little spray to follow, Carson Pass, CA.

I’m guessing if you’re reading this report you’ve also heard that we could see anywhere from 1-3+ feet of new snow in the high elevations before next week begins. The first storm is  supposed to start warm, which is a good thing for us as we need base building material just as much as we need any amount of precipitation. Some models and reports are pointing to higher amounts of snow up high, while lake level could barely see several inches. Keep an eye of the forecast as things start to change this week and let’s just hope anything falls from the sky as it’ll be good for more than just skiing around these parts.

The beauty of Tahoe's famed West Shore is clearly evident on the up,

The beauty of Tahoe’s famed West Shore on the up,

as well as the down

accentuated by alpenglow on the down. Skier: Jillian Raymond

Since we do anticipate a return to winter this week it’s prudent to monitor the recent observations and findings shared by the Sierra Avalanche Center (SAC). Even though we’ve barely had a few feet of snow fall this season, recrystallized powder has been available to ski as this old, unsupported sugar snow has slowly been breaking down. It feels great to ski, and without it, we’d be even worse off if you can believe that, but on the flip side it also represents potential future snowpack stability issues depending on how the new snow comes in, and how much of it falls.

I remember running into one of our hero SAC observers earlier this season and talking about what might rid us of the faceting (both near surface level and ground level) in our snowpack on down the road. A HUGE rain event, or a HUGE snow event seemed about right, something that essentially hit the so called reset button. However, without such monumental events the ability for what is left out there to take on new loading is poor at best. I know it doesn’t sound all that great to anticipate potential persistent weak layers, but for our community in the now, we should respect that this scenario is likely going to influence how and what we ski in the near and foreseeable future. For now let’s just be thankful that it’s finally going to snow again, with mental energy, snow dances and sacrifices placed on a hopeful Fabulous February that’ll make us all forget about the drought conditions, and focus on more snowy days ahead.

“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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You can check out more “State of the Backcountry” reports through Facebook, Instagram and its website.

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Previous “State of the Backcountry” Reports from the 2013-2014 season:

Edition I

Edition II

Edition III

Edition IV

Edition V-WA/BC

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