Apr 19 2013

Tahoe’s last call for Winter Twelve-13?


Ross Collins nabs freshies off the E side of peak 10,120, near the 2-stroke smoke zone.

Once again Tahoe was the recipient of a weak storm. Though wimpy, it turned out to be better than expected, with Mt. Rose ski resort reporting up to 10 inches of fresh snow. Despite the belief that this was an exaggeration, the fact that snow had fallen sporadically throughout the previous day made it worth taking a tour to hunt for what would probably be the last powder turns of the season around Lake Tahoe.

Figuring the temperatures would be rising quickly Ross and I arrived at the trailhead to Lake Incline an hour earlier than originally planned. Two cars were already there, and two guys were busy changing boots and waxing their skins. They asked in a friendly way where we were headed but I replied evasively, “skins on we go up, skins off we go down.” Within minutes they hit the trail while we donned a second coat of sunscreen.

With luck we managed to find a continuous line of snow up the south side.

By the time we clicked in to our bindings they had crossed the lake and disappeared from view, but their tracks couldn’t hide where they were headed – the same destination I had planned, the nameless bump just south of Relay Peak. Their tracks veered right when the normal track went left, suggesting they were going to follow a natural gully up Ophir creek and the main bowl to the summit.

A good call for efficiency, but my plan was to explore a route up the SE ridge to the top, crossing over from the backside of Knob Jr. below Ginny Lake. As we gained elevation to a lower ridge I could see that the ridge itself was well covered in snow, but the southern slope we had to cross to get there would require linking patches of snow between sparsely covered rocks. There was sure to be a continuous path through, but would we get lucky enough to find it?

Switchbacking up the SE ridge of peak 10,120. Slednecks straightlined this section an hour later.

We did, and within an hour were on the ridge, making tight switchbacks up its wind sculpted sides. A cold wind blew from the the northeast, preventing the fresh snow from transforming to gunk while lightly compacting it. The skin track of the two who beat us to the trail followed the center of the gully below and we expected to see them dropping in at any moment but they never appeared, probably descending just out of view around the bend of the slope we planned to ski ourselves.

At the summit the cold wind threatened to freeze our fingers so we ducked behind a grove of pines to rip the hide, and take a slash of water. The east face fell away at a compelling 40°, covered with the promised 10 inches of fresh snow, lightly compacted by the wind. It was a bit slabby on the top, so our first turns were a bit cautious. The snow did sluff a bit, but it didn’t gain momentum or size so we relaxed and linked turns to the bottom, every single one untracked through sparsely spaced trees with plenty of room to navigate.

Ross Collins engages the fall line.

We followed the path of our unknown brethren through the gully to the bottom, donned skins again and went for a second lap up the north side of Knob Jr. My usual MO was frustrated by a deep enough layer of cold smoke to make it tough to hold position on a low-angle skin track. The skins would hold on the top layer, but it wasn’t bonded to the base layer beneath. So I switched tactics, engaged the climbing bar and headed straight up.

At the top Ross asked, “what happened to your mellow angled skin track?”

“Obviously it wasn’t working. It’s not that I can’t do a steep skin track, I just prefer not to. But steep worked and we weren’t planning on a second lap so I figured it was time to just crank it up.”

He agreed, in that instance it was a lot easier, and faster.

We ran into two other skiers at the top who were exercising the same game plan, with this being their second climb and run down. On the north side the snow was cold, light and fluffy, protected from the wind by trees. Then we took a sharp right and traversed out on to the final slopes back to the lake, skated across its frozen surface, and climbed back to the car.

It’s always great to get out, especially when you can feast on a view of big blue. If you’re still jonesing for more skiing, don’t wait, get on out there before it melts. This last refresh was welcome, but it won’t last long.

© 2013

  • http://twitter.com/andylewicky Andy Lewicky

    10 inches?? that sounds like one of the best storms of the year! :)

  • Dostie

    10 inches in the lee side pockets, drift depth, NOT average by any stretch.