Since the last State of the Backcountry report, we’ve said goodbye to the quasi-spring cycle that had been in place, and welcomed a series of moist storms that’s left anywhere from 2-4+ feet of new snow on our local peaks. Rolling into February the Tahoe area was in serious need of some snow, and thankfully the month provided in a serious way. On the southern end of things Carson Pass picked up more than 11 feet over the course of the month, while to the north the Donner area picked up around 8-9 feet.
Thanks to Julian Hanna for the next four photos
Although February was by far and away our best snowfall month of the season (so far), much of the precipitation fell as rain at lake level. Therefore, backcountry skiing conditions remain thin at the lower elevations, which continues to influence ski choices around the lake. On the West Shore, as is the case with other local ski objectives, above 7500’ is where the change in conditions is most noticeable. Skiing out below this elevation is very doable, and has been fun depending on how the snow’s come in, but there’s still Manzanita, logs and boulders to watch out for-especially on mountains with lower starts like Mt. Tallac and Angora Peak.
At the passes winter is in full effect. Carson Pass, Donner Pass and the Mt. Rose area continue to offer the most accessible ski touring options with the best base across the region. Between the higher benches of the West Shore, and the upper ski terrain of our high elevation access points, February has really delivered for our local backcountry skiing community.
In terms of stability issues, while skiing during arguably the best day of the recent storm systems, my crew and I watched and sampled as the light density snow we had been skiing-kicking up multiple foot rooster tails and constantly getting shacked by deep overhead face shots-turned to a mountain of soft/storm/wind slabs in the matter of a few hours. That slab danger has largely subsided in the present, and current problems are more informed by lingering wind slabs on a smaller scale and rain on snow issues on a larger scale that have resulted in snow instabilities, especially below 9k feet.
As we turn our attention to the hope for a Miracle March, it’s the current high snow line that’s of immediate concern. The most recent systems have had snow falling above 9k feet with rain below. This is great base building material, and terrain continues to get a solid resent because of these storms. It’s made for some heavy ski conditions, but the snow has actually skied much better that what you’d think.
Looking ahead, we’ll have another relatively warm, weakish storm roll through this weekend and possibly early next week before a ridge builds over our forecast area indicating a return of high pressure with no storm systems on the horizon until the middle-latter part of the month. With these next disturbances winds will be strong, snow line will be high, but there won’t be too much punch in terms of snowfall amounts either. Hopefully I’m wrong on that last part.
Overall, February came up big for Tahoe. While it would’ve been amazing to have all our recent precipitation fall to lake level, it’s great that we got what we did and that the skiing has been as good as it’s been. Sure, there’s been some low elevation rain and thicker snow up high, but you never really know how it’ll ski until you go, and some of these 4-6ish inch storms have skied so well that you’d think you were skiing a new foot or two.
In the present, it remains a game of choosing your objective wisely to get the best quality and conditions out of a tour, but we’re also living with the best conditions we’ve had all season. Based on the reality of the past three winters, I know some skiers and riders go out of their way to make it happen, and others don’t. If you’re on the latter end, get out there and get some unless you’re cool with waiting for another season to pass. It really has been a phenomenal week+ and with sunny skies on the way, more options for longer tours and exploring above 7500’ with visibility are a very real option.
This piece marks the end of local reporting for the next few weeks as Jeff Dostie and I prepare for our heli assisted backcountry touring season in Alaska with Points North. We’re totally sold out for the season and hopefully we’ll have some solid AK stoke to share once things get rolling up at Tour Camp. I look forward to hearing how things shake out in the coming weeks for the Sierra Nevada. Here’s to hoping we’re all amped for a big Sierra spring in Tahoe and the Eastside, and that locally we continue to get dumped on in any form to add to the current snowpack. Be safe and have fun out 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: