State of the Backcountry 2016: Alaska and Tahoe

State of the Backcountry 2016: Alaska and Tahoe

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State of the Backcountry 2016: Alaska and Tahoe

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A fired up crew takes in the view atop Sluffhead

A fired up crew takes in the view atop “Sluffhead”.

It’s springtime in the mountains, which means there’s a deep snowpack across the Northern Hemisphere, and the chance to nail spring skiing at its finest is upon us. Powder becomes a more scarce resource as April will quickly turn into May, but sneaker, cold snow days happen (like it just did in Tahoe), and it’s the melt-freeze cycles of spring, coupled with longer daylight hours that allows for deeper exploration into the backcountry.

Alaska

As much as spring skiing goes off across the American West, Alaska is still king. March was a stormy one at PNH Tour Camp, and April was no different. In contrary to years past when we got nailed by several multi-foot storms, this season wasn’t as heavy on total precipitation as much as it was on cumulative storm days. Throw in a heavy dose of warmth and negotiating tricky conditions became a theme to our season. All that said, we skied almost everyday, worked with the conditions offered to us, and mitigated the seasonal hazards as they surfaced. Overall, it was another incredible season with staff and clients alike claiming “best run”, “best day”, and “best trip of my life”.

Wes-Slay Stomp-Son enjoys a pristine view and some velvet powder in his backyard.

Wes-Slay Stomp-Son enjoys a pristine view and some velvet powder in the Tour Camp backyard.

The Chugach wasn’t the only range in Alaska to experience above average temperatures the past two months. Operators across the state struggled to dodge storms, and find good snow when temperatures spiked to all-time highs. The thing is all it takes is one good storm to heal this magical maritime snowpack, and thankfully that’s what we got at Tour Camp. It was still stormy, but those good days are the ones you wait for all season, the ones you dream about in July during the peak heat of summer.

As always, it’s bittersweet to take Tour Camp down, but we had another phenomenal season of guests and Jeff, Wes and I couldn’t be more fired up. From Sphinx to our last faceshots of Chugach blower on “Home Knoll” we’ re already planning for next season and have several spots reserved. If you want to come ski tour with us in 2017 please be in touch.

The Winter Wildlands Alliance had their annual ambassador gathering in Lake Tahoe this year. From left to right: Donny Roth, David Page, Noah Howell, Mark Menlove, James, Hilary Eisen, Forest McCarthy, and Rich Meyer.

The Winter Wildlands Alliance had their annual ambassador gathering in Lake Tahoe this year. From left to right: Donny Roth, David Page, Noah Howell, Mark Menlove, James, Hilary Eisen, Forest McCarthy, and Rich Meyer take in the view atop Jake’s.

Tahoe

Tour Camp is a second home for a small part of the year, but there’s nothing quite like coming home to Tahoe. This season, I arrived back just in time for the Winter Wildlands Alliance (WWA) ambassador workshop. If you are a backcountry skier or rider, then it’s safe to say you support the human powered experience. The WWA is a community-based collective that reaches out to youth through the Snow School initiative, tours the country with a celebrated Backcountry Film Festival, and protects public lands for all people to enjoy. Take a look at the site and ask yourself what you’d like your backcountry to look like in 20 years? In Tahoe, the Tahoe Backcountry Alliance was created as a local offshoot of the WWA. Please take our survey, check out the website, and sign up for our newsletter. The more we can grow as a community of diverse skiers and riders, motorized and non, on local and global platforms, the more we can do collectively to protect an inclusive backcountry experience for all.

It was a treat to share the Tahoe backcountry with such a standout crew for a few days. Snow quality was far from perfect corn, but the consistency was fun, spring conditions. As the days progressed, a hard freeze with some strong winds did wonders for the greater area snowpack. In the past week, temps have warmed, and then we got hammered with a late season reset that dropped close to two feet on the Sierra Crest, and more than a foot over the high elevation reaches of Mt. Rose. The snow changed fast and will take a little while to transition back into full spring mode, but a quick hit of powder skiing was more than welcome.

There's not much snow at lake level, but there's still plenty of quality turns left in the Tahoe backcountry.

There’s not much snow at lake level, but there’s still plenty of quality turns left in the Tahoe backcountry.

Snowline is relatively high at this point, but about 8k feet coverage is good, and will hold for the next few weeks. Skiing at lake level is not possible, but access is still there if you’re willing to walk on some dirt and connect snow patches until closer to 7k feet and higher. Access from the passes (Donner, Rose, Carson) is the most sure fire bet at this point, and many lines above 8k are at least average if not fatter. Prior to this most recent storm, the steep skiing conditions were fantastic.

Toby Schwindt enjoys a perfect panel of steep spring snow.

Toby Schwindt enjoys a perfect panel of steep spring snow.

Looking ahead, SAC has stopped issuing advisories for the season, but that doesn’t mean avalanche activity is over. Our weather looks to stay unsettled for the next week or more so more fresh turns, especially at higher elevations looks to be on tap. Expect full spring mode to be back in play as soon as the precipitation stops, but if you’re looking to keep ski touring don’t give up yet. To the south folks have been running all over the Eastern Sierra, from as far south as possible up to Sonora Pass. Tioga Pass was reportedly supposed to open this week, but I’d keep an eye on the weather and the CAL DOT site before making any firm plans.

Conditions in Tahoe have been prime to get walled.

Conditions in Tahoe have been prime to get walled.

It’s been incredible to go from a deep Alaskan season right into prime spring Tahoe conditions, and the snow should hold for a few more weeks up high. Eastside skiing will be solid for a good chunk of May, especially when the passes open, and we haven’t even gotten to Shasta yet. I’ll look forward to checking in soon as it’s time to head to Iceland with Ice Axe Expeditions for a sail and ski mission. Stay safe out there and enjoy the new snow everyone!

Toby Schwindt drops in to a local classic.

Toby Schwindt drops into a local classic.

Unofficial Networks State of the Backcountry Reports from the 2015-2016 ski season:

Antarctica, Ushuaia, and Tahoe (NOV)

Tahoe and the Eastern Sierra (DEC)

Tahoe and Nevada (JAN)

Tahoe and the Eastern Sierra (FEB)

Chugach Mountains, Alaska (MAR)

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