Apr 29 2011

Springtime escape to the Sierra

It has been an epic season. One that is still going strong, except, that is, for the number of people still skiing.

Sweet corn snow. Excellent for climbing. Excellent for turning.

Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t like I don’t still see other people when I’m out skiing the backcountry. But there aren’t as many, and the ones who remain are friendlier. I don’t know if it’s because they just happen to be friendlier people, or if it’s because with fewer people to compete for freshies the friendly side just shines through so much easier. Maybe it’s just because in the spring the sun is out and there’s no need to hide inside a hood.

At times I’m perplexed that that number of people skiing drops so dramatically once the storms subside. The snow remains, but the visitors do not. I wonder – do they not understand how excellent the conditions are in the spring? True, the chance of getting a two footer are slim, but six inches of powder is still fresh powder. And if it’s six on one side of the mountain, you can bet it’s twice that on the other side, so it’s not like you can’t get a powder day in the spring. I’ll admit on most days powder doesn’t arrive, but that’s true in the dead of winter too.

Come spring, the snow depth is max, and so is the weather. The sun and gravity rearrange the zillions of snowflakes that have fallen through the season into a harvest of silky smooth, ego-stroking corn snow, where no man makes a bad turn. Why would anyone want to miss out on that? I guess they think they have more important things to do.

On the otherhand, I’m perfectly content to have the entire mountain to myself or with a small group of friends. Okay, I admit it, I prefer it. Obviously, the few others I see out in the backcountry this time of year do too. At least, I think that’s why they’re so much friendlier.

As the month of April draws to a close the Sierra is promising the first week long stretch of continuous sunshine since the Ten-11 mini-draught back in January. The depth of the snow has only receded at lower elevations. Up high, it’s still deep – just shy of a high-water mark in the neighborhood of 170%. The backcountry beckons, so it’s high time to log an extended trip to the Sierra.

In the meantime, don’t expect any updates here. If want to register to comment and haven’t before, you’ll just have to wait until I return for your views to be visible. There might be a guest editor this week but don’t count on it. Until then, I’ll leave you with an appropriate rerun from the pages of Couloir.


  • http://kimkircher.com kimkircher

    The same phenomenon happens in the Cascades. I think people have a built-in quota of ski days they want to get in. Once they’ve reached that quota, they move on to cycling, climbing, trimming their toe nails, whatever. But spring skiing is the best. It’s the reward at the end of the season. Everything is filled in. The snow cooks down to rockstar quality; the sunglasses come out. It’s almost as good as a day at the beach. Enjoy your extended trip Craig!

  • http://www.thompsonpass.com Valdez Telehead

    I have a need to babble…

    Here we have the same phenom despite the fact that May 5th is when the Thompson Pass snowpack @ 4000′ is at it’s deepest. The days are of course super-long, allowing one to chase corn across all aspects all day and into the “night”. We skied wonderful, dry powder high on north ramps on Thurs and then within a turn or two, were splitting untracked corn snow on the lower sections to the car door for 3500′ers. Today it is snowing up high with 4″ likely and continues skiing next week.

    Stability is almost worth not thinking about which is nice for a change. It is pleasant to
    “not ski so seriously”. Those thoughts never seem to go away through a Chugach season of breaking out routes after snow storms and wind events. Solving those hazards presented some outstanding rewards. But they are always tempered by the constant avalanche equation running through your brain from the time you first open your eyes in the am, till you return home smiling in exhaustion yet slightly scared to death. Look to be well over a 100 days for the 30th year all in Valdez. I have to pinch myself at times to be so fortunate and frankly, to still be skiing.

    $5 a gallon and 60 mile RT to the Pass goods has certainly put a damper on things for some. I still have my little green GEO Metro which fits two skinners and a pair of shorty fatties @ 44mpg. That is about $8 RT. $4 each. Pretty telemark dirtbag ya think!

    There is even ski race planned on May 30th (could it be the latest ski race in NA?). It is part of a “Summit to Sound” race that includes a skin-ski of a few thousand feet, 30 mile bike, 2 mile kayak, and 5K run. I will let you know how poorly I do in the solo division. Tabitha is on a team.

  • kenaimountainskier

    Sweet sound of the babble! I ran the ridge at Summit Lake Lodge back to 4790′ April 28th. Butcher bowl Northside pow followed by Tenderfoot bowl southside corn! Back to the road by 5 laughing about it in the lingering sun!