Live in the now, be present, and focus on the fact that February has been nothing but powder days in the Tahoe backcountry. We’re all well aware of the continuing drought, but to look past the beauty that has been the last week+ of primo backcountry powder skiing would be criminal.
There’s no doubt that problems will persist for the Sierra if we don’t get some major water/dumpage soon. With that said, looking at our situation from a glass half full perspective, the current state of our local backcountry is much brighter than the last report. In the past week, anywhere from 1-2+ feet of new snow fell across our forecast area, with the brunt of the precipitation collecting along the West and South Shores. Areas to the north received less, but colder snow, and finally the East Shore-while not fully rideable yet, has at the very least a long overdue winter coat.
Snowpack worries, while never fully absent, also shook-out through the course of the storm and subsequent cold front. Thankfully, due in large part to cold air settling in over Tahoe, locking up the warm, unconsolidated mess that was buried below the new snow that fell from late last Thursday onward, the snowpack has mostly healed itself from lingering persistent weak layers. Skiing was a bit touchy early on during the storm, but gradually got better through the weekend on into this week. As it currently stands, where coverage is solid, it’s nothing but pow turns.
Of course sticking to predominately north aspects (NW-N-NE) are where you’re going to find the best coverage and snow quality at this point, especially above 8k feet. Down low is another story. There’s soft snow, but there isn’t much covering the rocks, logs and other natural obstacles that are still not totally buried yet. In fact, with a somewhat stable snowpack in place, low tide issues continue to plague our greater backcountry skiing conditions. In addition, our new snow may not be able to handle what’s set to come in all that well either. We’ll have to wait and see how the forecasted snow falls and sticks, but for now, watching out for loosely buried objects and enjoying the soft cushion in between the features has been more than pleasurable for most users.
As you can see from this edition’s photos, all of which were taken skiing various spots along Tahoe’s West Shore this past week, where it’s good, it’s perfectly blissful powder goodness. It’s prudent to take note of the new snow that’s coming in for TH/Fri along with SW winds that were transporting snow all day Wednesday. Thankfully our snowpack has shaken out a bit with the newest snow resting on top of a largely supportable rain crust, however there’s still some sugar, mank and weakness underneath this base. It’d be hard for a skier to break through this crust in most cases, but in an isolated area where perhaps a rock/log offered a different consistency, spatial variability may make that pocket more prone to failing.
Overall, we’re looking so much better in the now that we were a week ago. The big question is how will these impending storms shape our backcountry conditions in the near future? We’re going to get decent snow for the next few days, but this weekend’s storm could be a monster. Warm, wet and big, we need it, but it’s going to be interesting to see how much it rains down low, and how much snow we get up high. In any case, we’re living through a Fabulous February right now with nothing but powder days under our belts, and a whole bunch of weather on the way. Be stoked on what we have going, keep up to date with daily Sierra Avalanche Center advisories, and travel cautiously through the changing mountain conditions we’ll see in the coming days. Things may have started slow this winter, but living in the present, February is looking more than good for Tahoe area backcountry skiers and riders.
A special shout out in this edition to Red Lion and Rambo Party Productions. They’ll be hosting a party at the Squaw Valley Stables this Saturday starting at 6pm. The party is a family friendly affair meant to foster further community support for the movement to incorporate Olympic Valley. This movement is grounded in efforts to maintain local control of issues that influence and impact the area, most notably in the face of a massive ski resort development proposed by current capital investment owners KSL. Many feel this proposed development will erode the unique mountain culture and place that so many of us have come to know and love. Come show your support for this movement, for those that identify Squaw as a special place this Saturday and enjoy live music, food and drink, a raffle and silent auction all meant to act in solidarity with this important cause. I’ll see you there!
“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. 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: