It’s been a wet May in the Sierra, and even though winter left a lot to be desired in California, it’s a testament to the local backcountry community for continuing to make the most of it.
If you’re a Sierra snowslider, you know as well as I do that it’s been four consecutive years of lackluster snow totals for our local mountains. Magazines, web based media outlets and even national news carriers have captured the ongoing drought in California, which is a paramount area of concern. For skiers and riders, our last big season feels like eons ago. But you know this. You’ve read about “the worst winter on record”, the close to zero percent of average snowpack currently sitting in the Sierra, and the drastic measures the state as a whole must undergo in order to deal with inadequate water supplies. This final State of the Backcountry report for the 2014-2015′ ski season wholeheartedly respects and honors this reality, and at the same time, wishes to give a major shout-out to every backcountry snow lover that has and continues to adapt to what’s out there.
Doom and gloom aside, it’s been an interesting few weeks skiing in and around Tahoe and the Eastern Sierra. After months of skiing away from home, I was pleasantly surprised to return this May to more than a few adventurous souls making the trip down to Mammoth for late season laps, searching for the last glowing white panels scattered around the Tahoe high country, and utilizing access made available via local highway mountain passes. Current options aren’t as bountiful as they could be on a normal year in the Sierra, but in light of the current state of the backcountry, what’s been available has offered some great late season skiing and riding.
This time of year the most accessible late season backcountry skiing, from Tahoe to the Eastside, is most easily reached from passes such as Tioga, Sonora, and Carson. The north end of Lake Tahoe has been pretty thin for a while, but from the south end on down to Sonora Pass there remains decent snow coverage. Tioga hasn’t been quite as covered as Sonora this year, but there are areas of both that will keep skiing well through the month. Take it as a sign, that as of the printing of this report, Tioga, Ebbett’s and Carson Passes are all open, but Sonora remains closed. You could easily skin from your car off Sonora Pass as of a few days ago, and with the recent weather, there should be a fresh, smooth carpet to slide on once the 108 opens back up.
Weather wise, it’s been a tricky month. The precipitation is so greatly needed, but with that choosing where and when to ski tour has been difficult. It looks as though unstable weather will continue in the Sierra through the holiday weekend, so make sure you get a good gauge on the most current forecast before venturing out for some turns. That said, the disturbances haven’t been too strong for the most part, with glory holes opening up allowing for some fun skiing and riding.
Snowpack wise, wet loose avalanche potential is a viable hazard as is the need to watch out for obstacles that might be partially buried by the recent new snow. Over the past several days I’ve uncovered a few lightly buried rocks as well as kicked off a few small, wet slabs. With the intense solar radiation of May any new snow gets zapped quickly, so it’s crucial to take that into consideration and adapt tour plans accordingly. Likewise, there has been some incredibly fun skiing out there, but especially in a place like the Mt. Rose backcountry, there wasn’t much snow on the ground before these current storms blew through so really make sure you feel good about where you’re laying turns down before dropping in on any given run.
I can’t believe it’s already the last State of the Backcountry report for the season, but as always, thanks so much for reading and sharing the stoke! A huge thanks to Alpenglow Sports for sponsoring these reports, and for Unofficial Networks for hosting them. It’s been a crazy roller coaster this season, one I can for surely say offered some incredible highs and desperate lows. From Canada to Chamonix, Gulmarg, Alaska, and Greenland, it’s great to be back in the Sierra, offering this final piece for the season from home. People really made the most of working with what local snow did fall in the mountains this year, and with places like Mt. Shasta still boasting great ski touring in the now, and snow falling at the high elevations of the Sierra, the long strange trip continues. Have fun skiing, climbing, biking, paddling and doing whatever brings you the most stoke this time of year. I’m looking forward to sharing more fun days with good people in the mountains over the coming months, and hope to be reporting on copious amounts of fresh snow in the Range of Light next fall. Until then, be safe, have fun, and stay fired up!
“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.