Just when all bets were off thanks to a fizzled “Storm of the Century”, along came a few under forecasted storms, and there you have some of the best powder skiing to hit the Tahoe backcountry in recent memory. It’s been so good, with the current dry out, a host of tourers are smiling at the chance to finally give their legs a break after close to two straight weeks of non stop powder skiing.
Since the last edition of State of the Backcountry, it feels so unapologetically good to report that Tahoe has been completely going off! While Thursday, December 11th will go down in the history books for local lake surfers, the storms that followed brought what was needed the most. In sum, the storm failed to produce the exaggerated snowfall totals that were originally forecasted. Many were let down, understandably so, especially in that barely a dusting collected at lake level. The funny thing is the several smaller storms that were forecasted the days after “the monster” received zero hype, but wound up giving the backcountry community not only our best conditions of the season, but some of the most consistent early season powder skiing in a couple of years.
Ultimately, we’re still lacking consistent skiing down to lake level, but if you choose your locale wisely you’re going to find a worthy base. The venerable destinations in Donner Summit, the Mt. Rose area and Carson Pass hold the best present potential for quality ski touring. That’s not to say that skiers and riders haven’t been exploring and pushing out deep into Desolation Wilderness, leaving tracks on the NW and West Shore proper, and even scratching their way to the tops of Tahoe’s tallest peaks on the South Shore. Reliability in terms of snow base and quality is most easily reached from our traditional high elevation access points, but the most memorable adventure might be found dealing with a little bit of walking, a little bit of Manzinita, and having a whole Sierra mountain to yourself.
The bummer of our current state of the backcountry is that after a gift of a storm last Friday overproduced snow at all elevations, it got warm, real warm. Although a slight refreeze is possible thanks to radiational cooling, freezing temperatures have been elusive over the past two days, and temperatures are forecasted to climb to near 50 over the next three days. To make matters worse precipitation in the form of rain fell to at least 8k feet, if not higher in some areas, and unfortunately there is widespread saturated snow well above 9k feet.
In an odd twist thanks to the funky weather change, instead of worrying about tricky windslabs like we were during the heart of storm activity last week, the current major avalanche concerns are due to increased, rapid warming of the snowpack. Yup, loose, wet slide avalanche potential has invaded our backcountry reality in the now. It seems oh so weird after what we had been experiencing just a few short days ago, but it’s what’s currently being served up, so we just have to make the best of it.
Looking ahead, Wednesday could be interesting. There might be a few pre Xmas waves out there for some, and it also looks like another blast of snow will be on the way. It could be a few inches, it could be close to a foot up high depending on what weather model you trust (does anyone really “trust” any weather model?). In any case, it’s going to snow for a short period and then it looks like we’ll be all California sun until the New Year. There’s more than a few of us who have been around long enough to look to the New Year as almost a sure bet for a powerful storm. While that isn’t showing at present, there should be a few more fresh turns to seek out this mid week, and if winter corn becomes a seasonal taste on the menu, you might as well adapt your palate for a few days. Hopefully 2015 builds on the storms of the past two weeks and is as wet as some forecasters are calling for. Until then enjoy what’s out there, give thanks for almost two weeks of straight powder days, and let’s look forward to more Sierra Nevada skinning and skiing in 2015!
“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.