The numbers are staggering. 20-25+ feet of snow fell on the Sierra Nevada Mountains during the month of January. It was a record month for snowfall, smashing the old January record by several feet. In fact, January was the snowiest month on record for the Sierra surpassing the old record of 201″ back in March of 1992. To put that in perspective, the Range of Light received more snow in January 2017 than many ski resorts see all winter long. For example, Okemo, VT sees about 200″ annually. Squaw Valley saw that much snow in the first 20 days of the month alone!
To say the Sierra snow sliding community is at an all-time high of snowy stoke is an understatement. After several drought years, and an average winter last season, all one needs to do is drive around any community in the greater Tahoe area to get a glimpse of the “Januburied” aftermath. Houses were, and still are buried. Many people lost power for days, some for more than a week. Highways closed, and emergency crews ordered people to stay at home during intense periods of storming. January saw so much snow that since record-keeping, had it snowed just one more foot, the Sierra would have broken the record for the most snowfall ever recorded for this time of year.
As the photos in this piece speak too, it’s been a magical month from Lone Pine to the Sierra Buttes. There’s still half a snow season left, with the heavy hitters of February-March-April-May on deck, and most portions of the Sierra have already seen close to 80% of their average snowfall for the season. The higher you get in terms of elevation, the closer the Sierra gets to almost reaching its average snowfall for the entire season and it’s only the first of February!
The skiing and riding around Tahoe has been nothing short of a dream come true all month long. Sure, the last few days have been a bit warm, and during storms instability issues born from such rapid precipitation were rampant, but all month long everyday has been a powder day. To their delight, skiers and riders have been taking advantage of this wonderous gift and getting after it all over the range. To have such good snow at lake level, as well as outside of the Tahoe Basin, this is when our greater region truly shines. There are 5k+ foot descents that are in right now, and peaks that haven’t been skiable in years that have tracks all over them.
The Eastern Sierra has also fared well throughout the “Januburied” month with Mammoth Mountain breaking snowfall records and the range as a whole looking as white as it has in several years. On a recent adventure in the Bishop area my crew and I were able to ski almost 9k from the top of the classic Mt. Tom down to the desert. There were still powder turns to milk in the sagebrush below the 5k foot mark. Further south the snow coverage lightens up a bit, but up high there’s almost twice the amount of average snow sticking to High Sierra peaks right now.
In the present, Tahoe has low avalanche danger, but another storm is slowly headed our way ready to drop 1-3+ feet to kick off February in style. Something that’s super important to note is that as all this snow settles, even though avy danger is low that’s not to say hazards in the field are absent. I noticed it more touring in the Southern Sierra recently, but reports have also pointed to glide cracks present in local terrain due to the pack settling and creeping. These features look and act like crevasses do in glaciated terrain, and essentially present a hazard many local riders may not be familiar with seeing on local terrain.
Even though the snowpack is largely settled and skiing like a dream on many aspects check in with SAC in Tahoe or ESAC if you’re skiing on the Eastside to stay on top of the constant shifts in the Sierra snowpack as we move from “Januburied” into February. This next storm is forecasted to impact the whole Range of Light so conditions will change over the next few days, and we’re perpetually lucky to have such resources at our fingertips to help keep our greater community informed and safe.
The dream is alive and real in the Sierra right now. Stay on it, be safe, and make good decisions out there. This winter has already been stamped with something so magic, we can all feel it, and are all so lucky to to remember why the Sierra is so unique and special in a world full of inspiring mountains. Happy sending, see you on the skin track!
Unofficial Networks State of the Backcountry Reports from the 2016-2017 ski season:
Antarctica and Tahoe (NOV)
Tahoe Storm Edition (Jan)
“State of the Backcountry” shares stoke through: