May 21 2014

Sierra spring skiing keeps delivering


The Crystal Range, Desolation Wilderness, CA

The Crystal Range, Desolation Wilderness, CA     photo by tahoebc

It’s the heart of spring across the American West and the mountains are going off! In Tahoe, just about every activity outdoor enthusiasts pursue are accessible these days. Paddleboarding, mountain biking, rock climbing, kite surfing-you name it and people have been getting after it. If you haven’t hung up your boards for the season yet then you’re also in luck. There’s still a ton of quality snow sliding to be done locally, regionally and throughout the West.

Since my last State of the Backcountry report an incredible international expedition was had (more on that later) before coming home to Tahoe in early May. After spending some time checking out several areas as well as touching base with several friends who have been out and about, this report will be broken up into a few sections speaking to the state of what’s currently available to the interested snow slider.

Let's ski there....

Let’s ski there….    photo by mchin

A word on safety. Even though SAC stopped issuing their daily advisories last month, they always offer an end of the season report. That offering is linked here. Give it a read, and don’t underestimate the power of the mountains as you continue to tour this spring season. Of course the reality of a winter versus spring snowpack changes conditions, but you shouldn’t let it change your mentality too much. There have a been a few very unfortunate recent accidents involving loose wet snow and wet slabs avalanches in high consequence terrain. Safety is a core component to the craft of backcountry skiing, and remaining aware and practicing safe decision-making while you travel in the mountains should be paramount to all users, regardless of the season.


Nice tracks on Elephant's Back.

Nice tracks on Elephant’s Back.    photo by fogey

The terrain closest to home is what’s dwindling the fastest. There are still some quality turns to be had in the Donner Pass area, and much like our season in sum, the passes are generally where you’re going to find the best coverage for a ski tour. Skinning up and skiing down some of the closed ski resorts is not a bad idea. Sugar Bowl and Kirkwood have the most coverage if you’re on that program-just watch out for those who don’t enjoy the company of ski tourers, and please be accountable with your choice to tour in these areas by respecting ski area workers and treating the terrain as you would a backcountry ski tour.

In the Tahoe Basin, you’re going to have to walk for a ways to get on good snow. Desolation Wilderness is still holding in spots, as are some select locales on the West to South Shores. Throwing a bike or hike into the mix can be fun for some folks, but if you want to start and end your day on snow, the passes are surely your best bet. Carson Pass continues to offer some of the highest quality, easiest access for fun touring in the greater Tahoe area.

Ebbett’s Pass

I consider Ebbett’s Pass to mark the very far SE border of Tahoe area backcountry skiing. It’s not quite the grandeur of the Eastside, but it’s pretty unique and impressive nonetheless. Of all the passes in the Sierra, Ebbett’s tends to melt out the fastest. There’s been great skiing there in the past week and I suggest if you’re interested in checking it out or taking advantage of some of the low-hanging fruit that’s easy to lap once the road climbs above 8k feet, now is the time. If you’re interested in getting back to Hiram and Folger Peak, Highland Lakes Rd. was still covered in patches of snow as of late last week. It should be melted out soon, and as you can see from the shot I’ve shared, there’ll be plenty of snow in this micro zone well into June.

Eastern Sierra

E-Side - Basin Mt. in the center, Mt. Tom on the right.

E-Side – Basin Mt. in the center, Mt. Tom on the right. photo by Dostie

It’s been an interesting spring for the Eastside. We all know by now that this has been a historically low snowfall year for the Sierra Nevada. Back in April, snowpack measurements claimed 32% of normal. As of the beginning of May, that number dropped to 18%. If you’re familiar with my backcountry reports then you understand that backcountry skiing is all about making it work with what’s available. In mid-to-late April I came home from PNH Tour Camp and got to hang out with some of the best Sierra snow sliders out there at the annual Green Creek Chuteout. There was winter snow in Dunderberg’s North Couloir, and great spring snow in the Green Creek Couloir. With a recharge from a late season storm, the skiing above 8k, and especially 9k feet on the Eastside has been as much as one can ask for given the snowfall totals from the season. Even the Dunderberg to Green Creek linkup is still very skiable as of last week.

Mark and Jake, freshies from Sonora Pass.

Mark and Jake, freshies from Sonora Pass.     photo by Lucy

Again, just like in Tahoe access via the passes are your best bet on the Eastside. Tioga and Sonora Pass have both been open for weeks and have continued to deliver the goods as they normally do. Tioga is especially quality this time of year as beyond the opportunities to head to Mt. Dana and ski off the Dana Plateau, there’s always the terrain to the north of the pass, towards False White and Saddlebag Lake that’ll be holding good snow for weeks to come. If you’re feeling sporty, there’s plenty of access to high elevation peaks if you’re willing to walk. Some of the most enjoyable turns I’ve had since getting back to Tahoe this May were found in Northern Yosemite with no firm agenda, simply skiing what looked best after a long walk and getting deep in the mountains.

The Cascade Range

Heading up Mt. Lassen, mid-April 2014. Photo by Baaahb.

Heading up Mt. Lassen, mid-April 2014. Photo by Baaahb.

If you’re willing to hoof it out of town volcano season is upon us. The California duo of Lassen Peak and Mt. Shasta are reportedly much thinner than normal, but there is still some fun skiing to be had. It’s always a good idea to check in with the Shasta climbing advisory this time of year for the latest condition report, and it just got updated few days ago.

The further north you travel, into Oregon and Washington, the deeper the snowpack gets. Several friends have been sharing reports from various peaks in the Cascades all with glowing results. Depending on what you want to get into and how far you’re willing to go, the Cascades have something suitable for most abilities. The season can last well into summer, but with good conditions on many peaks in the present, now is as good a time as any for a mission. Check out the Northwest Avalanche Center page that seems to update info every few days for the most current beta on conditions.

Rocky Mt. High

Rockies are in the zone this season.  Photo by James

Rockies are in the zone this season. Photo by James

If you really want to keep skiing and riding and you’re willing to get even farther out of town it’s still winter in a host of Rocky Mountain locales. Arapahoe Basin just got a couple feet of new and it sounds like the skiing has been phenomenal the past few days. If you’re far from that program, it’s not too hard to get an early morning ski in around Tahoe, then hit up the lake, a climbing session, and even get a bike ride in before dinner. Or just head north to the Cascades, or south to the Eastside and tap into what’s available. Spring is always a favorite season for mountain folks. The weather might be a little funky (high elevation snow in Tahoe this upcoming week), but don’t let that be an excuse to waste a day, get out there and enjoy whatever gets you fired up!

© 2014
BCTalk: Tahoe Conditions 2013/14 thread

  • CROE

    Craig…..good to read/see stuff from Brennan…..my son and I skied in Alaska this April with Brennan and your cousin Jeff (both great personalities and good/safe guides)…fantastic place and highly recommended!!…..Chet Roe