Since the first “State of the Backcountry” reports started back in the 2009-2010’ ski season, the general tone has stayed consistent. This isn’t a place to complain about what’s not out there, but rather a place to celebrate what is out there. In my mind, that’s the true spirit of backcountry skiing-making it work with whatever snow is out there. In that light, this season’s ninth edition brings the spotlight to the Eastern Sierra.
If you think we’ve been struggling for snowfall totals in Tahoe this season, a look to Mammoth Mountain shows an even bleaker reality. While Squaw has had close to 150” on the upper mountain this season, Mammoth has yet to top the 100” mark. That’s less than what Kirkwood claimed out of our last huge storm the other week. While the numbers on the Eastside may look poor, a solid understanding of how wind can both accentuate and obliterate snow in the Eastern Sierra is a good thing for a snow slider who’s interested in ski touring the area.
While an objective oriented skier might want to hold off for a trip down south at this point, if you’re cool to get adventurous and ski what looks to be skiable, then you’re in luck. Although snowline is high and the overall look and feel of the Eastside while driving south on the 395 is more akin to early fall than almost spring, there are numerous gullies, chutes and couloirs that normally don’t look as appealing as they do right now.
On my recent scouting trip this past week, it became clear that there are in fact many worthy tours one can get into. The beginning shots in this report show the “classic” roadside vantages a Tahoe skier normally sees when heading south from the basin. From the Sawtooths to the Plateau, and the Bloody Couloir on down to Bishop, the bottom line is if you want to go for a walk and ski something on the Eastside, there’s snow to be enjoyed.
As you head south of Bishop snow line rises and the snowpack gets thinner, but with open roads allowing access to over 9k in some locales you can at least skin from your car and figure out what looks good to you. In terms of snow quality there’s a little bit of everything out there. We skied everything from smooth, creamy powder to not-quite-perfect corn , wind-board, a little breakable crust, and even some panels where all of that could be found within 100 vertical feet. However, as long as you could anticipate the changing snow conditions based on coverage and aspect, the skiing far exceeded expectations.
Building from the photos that I hope gets at least a few people fired up to get on their exploratory horse, the weather is set to change this week for the better on the Eastside. In addition to areas like Virginia Lakes and Mammoth that are closer to Tahoe skiers and riders, the Southern Sierra is looking to get their best storm of the season over the next week as a forecasted triple wave system impacts the greater Sierra Nevada starting this Wednesday.
If you do plan to head down south anytime soon it’s always a good idea to check out the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center for any updates and observations on snow stability in the range. They haven’t been issuing regular advisories on a daily basis yet this season, but there’s been more action of late since the most recent storm. Other than that let’s see how these next pulses play out and hopefully we’ll all be a bit more fired up to be traveling the 395 thanks to a Miracle March.
Although there are pockets of winter snow out there on protected north aspects, the game of late has been to follow the sun. With a relatively stable snowpack in place, sunnier aspects (E-SE-S) have offered some of the more fun turns in the greater area. But that’s all set to change this week. Just like the Eastside, the Tahoe area is forecasted for stormy weather for the next several days. If you’ve spent any significant time in the Sierra then you know how quickly everything can change around these parts, especially in March. Let’s hope these storms bring the juice we’re looking for and powder days are as abundant in the next week as corn skiing has been this past week. As always, stay in tune with the changing conditions by checking in with the Sierra Avalanche Center daily advisories, be safe, and have fun out there!
If you missed it, Alpenglow Sports is in the midst of hosting the inaugural Alpenglow Sports Mountain Festival. Here are links to a few pieces highlighting the numerous free backcountry events that will be running until March 2nd– One, Two, Three. It’s been a blast through the first week+ of the event and there’s much more set to take place. I hope to see you out and about enjoying this huge community gathering!
“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: