Cheers for the return of winter to Lake Tahoe! It may have been wet, windy with a high snow line, but are you really complaining? I hope not seeing as after the driest January on record any amount of precipitation is a reason to celebrate.
Before “Storm Dave” things were a bit slim throughout the great state of California. Slim picking to the north, south and certainly in Tahoe. In fact, the best bet seemed to be found poking around the California Cascades. Several friends reported exceptional corn skiing conditions off Mt. Shasta before the recent storm, and I can say without a doubt that both coverage and winter corn harvesting were worth the effort in Lassen Volcanic National Park.
The real news is the much needed cold rain and snow that blasted Northern California for the past several days. The wind that commonly acts as a precursor to big Sierra storm events was memorable with this last storm. There were two local ski and surf days in a row, which I must say for those that partake in both activities is such a unique gift. While the last major wind event in December was ultimately stronger, bringing massive wind swell to Lake Tahoe, this most recent event wasn’t too far off. The kicker with this one was some select spots around the lake were offering waves as clean as an ocean point-break. I know I’m not the only one to have scored a few rides that checked in at close to 100 yards, which after chasing waves around Lake Tahoe I had never seen possible in 11 years of pursuit.
As much as surfing Tahoe will never get old, it’s the white stuff we’re all most concerned with. As soon as the wind started backing off last Friday precipitation started falling. We actually got blanketed on the West Shore for a few hours. It was only a couple of inches, but it looked good, felt good, and made for a fun late afternoon tour.
Saturday through Monday boasted the best Tahoe area backcountry skiing conditions since December. The trick was and continues to be using high elevation access points to ones advantage as the brunt of the storm dropped snow above 8500’-9000’. Reports from the southern end of our forecast area were bleak at first, but thankfully have improved dramatically as of Monday and Tuesday. The real ticket, as many happy skiers and riders found out for themselves, is that the greater Mt. Rose area has been skiing exceptionally well with over three feet of new snow. Each day has skied better since the snow started falling, and while options from a macro perspective remain limited in Tahoe, there’s no reason to not get out there and enjoy what’s currently on tap.
Stability wise the new snow on north aspects has bonded pretty well over the course of the storm. That said, there is variability with how the snow has set up and how stable it is depending on where one is skiing. Read this avalanche report from our friends at the Sierra Avalanche Center regarding an incident from Saturday.
On more solar aspects point releases were noticed during the storm over the weekend as well, and as temperatures increase this week roller ball activity and other wet snow instabilities may grown as a concern. The largest concern in the now is arguably that if a slide were to go on a north aspect it could potentially go big. As storm slabs continue to consolidate watch out where wind slabs have developed over the past several days in addition to keeping aware of temperature fluctuations through the week. Where you want to ski-above 8500’ and on north aspects-is where the biggest wind slab concern currently stands. Steeper terrain is more prone to hosting such a slab, so as always proper decision making in terms of where and what you’re skiing is paramount.
Looking ahead, the sun should be out through the week, so it’s best to take advantage of the new snow in the backcountry while you can. Weather models are pointing to precipitation coming into the Tahoe Basin after this upcoming weekend, possibly, but I know I don’t have too much faith in how the weather folks have forecasted storms so far this winter season. Before the last storm hit I read an advisory that said snow levels would be between 6500’ and 10000’. Really? I appreciate the honesty in basically saying they didn’t know what to expect, but the frustration in reading that after going through a dry month was a little much. Regardless, there’s a new blanket to play with in Tahoe, and our neighboring mountains to the north and south received some snow out of these systems as well. It hasn’t snowed in too long! Get out there, be safe, and enjoy it everyone!
“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.