February 2017 in Review: Big Snows, First Descents and All Time Conditions

Another stellar month of storms left Tram Face stacked and ready to make history. Photo by Greg Martin.

It felt greedy to hope that winter could continue at the same relentless pace as our record breaking January but that’s exactly what happened. After a week’s reprieve from shoveling another moisture jet pummeled California causing widespread flooding, stressing out state reservoirs and stacking up feet upon feet of snow in the Sierra Nevada. The Donner Summit snow lab reported it’s biggest February since 1998 and our snowpack is now over 200% of average for this point in the season. The City of Reno broke it’s annual record for rainfall only half way through the calendar water year.

KT 22 on February 22, 2017.

The storm cycle ended cold and dry and left Tahoe with absolutely perfect powder on top of a massive base. Basically any and all lines in the region have come into play. Squaw Valley’s Tram Face saw heavy traffic for the better part of a week and several first descents were put up. The complexity of the new lines speaks not only to the quality of our snowpack but to the caliber of rider attempting them. Some of the new descents can be viewed more as dynamic mountaineering objectives than basic ski routes.

The elusive Lua’s Lane (entering top right) sees tracks for the first time in years. Note heavy traffic in Tram Chute on left side.

New lines on Tram Face. Second from right is Lua’s Lane which has been skied before though very rarely.

Tracks exiting Tram Chute.

The Grandfather.

Backcountry conditions have been as good as they ever get. Low hanging fruit is ripe for picking and this is the season to ponder larger objectives as they come into shape.

Mark Durgin explores the backcountry on February 24.

Perfect conditions on north aspects.

Stephanie Brodi gets barreled in the Truckee backcountry.

Humans aren’t the only ones getting fresh tracks.

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One for the Record Books

Conditions like this were the norm in January 2017.

Now that January 2017 is behind us we can look back and reflect on what a monster it was. The Donner Summit Snow Lab (elevation 7,000 feet) reported a record January with 237 inches of snow, soundly beating the previous January record of 159 inches set in 1973. January also set a record for most snow in a single month beating March of 1992 which came in at 201 inches. We are quickly approaching our seasonal average while not even half way through winter. Upper mountain measurements at most North Tahoe ski areas are well in excess of 400 inches, about 95% of the season average.

Walkways became trenches at PlumpJack Squaw Valley Inn.

Mark Durgin joins the party.

Cabin fever.

Hard not to smile when the skiing is this good.

Sometimes just getting over the snowbank and into the backcountry is the most challenging part of the day.

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Going Deep

Photo courtesy of Court Leve.

A succession of atmospheric rivers have pummeled California setting up the Sierra Nevada Mountains with the best ski conditions in years. Two frustrating yet drought quenching rain events in December were followed by two more huge storms which shifted from rain to snow and stacked up multiple feet of fluff down to lake level. Torrential rains, widespread flooding, power outages, downed trees, massive traffic jams and and raging blizzards have kicked off the 2017 ski season with a vengeance. Reminiscent of storm cycles from the mid 90’s, Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows were closed four days in a row the week of January 8. Giant snowbanks reduced many roads to one lane and the Truckee Tahoe School District had eight snow days between the New Year and MLK Holiday Weekend. Twelve feet of snow has fallen at elevation 7,000 feet putting us within striking distance of the all time January record of 15 feet. The last storm finished with a foot of down feathers on top and the avalanche hazard miraculously went from extreme to low in a matter of days. Cold nights and localized low fog have kept conditions perfect. The skiing is as good as it gets. More storms are expected later this week and over the weekend.

Tram Face basks in the glory between storms on January 6, 2017.

Tram Face basks in the glory between storms on January 6, 2017.

Dude where's my car?

Dude where’s my car?

Nobody's leavin!

Nobody’s leavin’

Truckee River on January 8 before rain turned to snow.

Truckee River on January 8 before rain turned to snow.

Sampling the product in the Truckee backcountry.

Sampling the product in the Truckee backcountry.

Wet storms caked the Fingers at Squaw Valley.

Wet storms caked the Fingers at Squaw Valley.

Aaron Pope goes deep.

Aaron Pope goes deep.

Massive lift lines at Squaw Valley over MLK weekend.

Squaw Valley over MLK weekend.

Spiritual moments in the backcountry over MLK weekend.

Pop n’ Fresh

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Re-up

Mt. Judah

A quick blast of snow on Monday night left Tahoe with some of the best conditions of the year. Dense, high speed, AK style powder performed as good on the way up as it did on the way down.

Donner Peak

Lake Run

Perfection

Break in the Box

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Hot and Cold

The Pacific Crest on Tuesday morning, March 8.

The Pacific Crest on Tuesday morning, March 8.

On the heels of a February which delivered only one storm, March has welcomed us with the return of much needed precipitation. Atmospheric rivers have blasted into Northern California with copious amounts of moisture typically starting as rain and finishing as snow. Higher elevations have received several feet of the white stuff since March 1. Last weekend’s storm finished wet and heavy keeping patrol busy with avalanche control on Monday morning. Cold temps Monday night dried out and vastly improved the snowpack for those who got out early on Tuesday. Wednesday it warmed up and started raining again. The forecast for this weekend has been scaled back but we may see solid snow totals if it stays cold enough.

Donner Peak on Monday afternoon, March 7.

Donner Peak on Monday afternoon, March 7.

Pacific Crest and Mt. Lincoln.

Pacific Crest and Mt. Lincoln.

Tuesday morning glory.

Tuesday morning glory.

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Winter rolls on

Kevin Verlander takes a walk on February 1, 2016.

Kevin Verlander takes a walk on February 1, 2016.

Last week’s atmospheric river produced two to four inches of liquid and finished with cold temperatures and great snow. Gale force northeast winds on Sunday night created wind slabs on a variety of aspects. Two skier triggered slides were reported in the vicinity of Relay Peak and Incline Lake Peak on Monday. Overcast skies on Tuesday generated a few more inches of fluff. We have had so many great ski days this winter it’s hard to believe it’s only early February.

Even south aspects look good these days.

Even south aspects look good these days.

Windslab avalanche near Incline Lake Peak.

Windslab avalanche near Incline Lake Peak.

Rider triggered slab avalanche on February 1, 2016.  37 degrees, southeast face, elevation 8,700 feet, 8 inch crown.

Rider triggered slab avalanche on February 1, 2016. 37 degrees, southeast face, elevation 8,700 feet, 8 inch crown.

Playing hide and seek at Sugar Bowl on January 31.

Playing hide and seek at Sugar Bowl on January 31.

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Volatile Snowpack Finally Caves

Avalanche debris below Light Towers and Slot.

Avalanche debris below Light Towers and Slot at Squaw Valley.

Something had to give with our recent snowpack and over the last few days it finally did. New snow and strong winds collapsed layers of buried surface hoar resulting in large avalanches throughout the Tahoe region. On January 15 nearly everything steep at Squaw Valley slid during avalanche mitigation. Slides on Headwall and Palisades were rated category 3.5. Several post control releases occurred in Enchanted Forest and Snag Cliffs. Unofficial backcountry guru Brennan Lagasse witnessed natural releases on the West Shore and Donner Summit. On January 14, local pro skier JT Holmes was buried in a slide near Cold Stream Canyon. He was dug out and revived by companions and is reportedly OK. Incoming storms will continue to stress persistent weak layers. Hopefully everything will shake out and settle with the wet storms over the next few days. Check the SAC forecast for daily updates. Sierra Avalanche Center

Buried surface hoar is uncommon in Tahoe and warrants special consideration from backcountry travelers. Read more about this atypical condition here: Reno Gazette Journal Sierra Snow Conditions Create Rare Avalanche Problem

Reno Gazette Coverage of JT Holmes Avalanche Burial

Headwall crown.

Headwall crown.

Slab avalanches propagated all the way from Light Towers to Headwall.

Slab avalanche propagated from Light Towers to Headwall.

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Feeling like Winter

Stairway to heaven.

Stairway to heaven.

Consistency has been the name of the game this winter. Small storms keep rolling in keeping conditions fresh. Big lines have been going down at Squaw Valley and the backcountry has been impeccable day after day. For the first time in years it’s starting to feel like a real ski season in Lake Tahoe. Pent up demand has Bay Area skiers rolling up in droves, local businesses are cranking and powder hounds are smiling. Gale force winds associated with our latest storm shut down lifts at Squaw Valley today. The current snowpack has several layers of buried surface hoar which should be carefully monitored by backcountry travelers. Forecasts are calling for more moisture over the next week.

Sierra Avalanche Center

Open Snow Powder Forecast

Mt. Tallac looking ripe on January 9.

Mt. Tallac looking ripe on January 9.

Ski tracks exiting Tram Chute at Squaw Valley.

Ski tracks exiting Tram Chute at Squaw Valley.

3,000 vertical feet to go.

3,000 vertical feet to go.

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Dazed and Confused

Is this really Lake Tahoe skiing right now?

Is this really the Lake Tahoe backcountry right now?


It’s difficult to tell whether the skiing is all time good right now or if it just feels that way because it’s been so long. Either way, it’s hard to find much to complain about. Last week the mountains around Lake Tahoe received two to three feet of heavy, base plastering snow followed by another storm which dumped two feet of low moisture fluff. It has stayed cold all week with highs just over 30 degrees keeping ski conditions perfect. The persistent weak layer that was a concern before Christmas has subsided and current avalanche hazard is low at all elevations and aspects. Ideal snow conditions and minimal avy risk make this a cycle of skiing we won’t soon forget. Be sure to check the Sierra Avalanche Center website every day before heading out. SAC forecasters dig pits all over the region which can help us better understand the local snowpack. Sierra Avalanche Center

Sugar Bowl's Mt. Disney on Christmas morning.

Sugar Bowl’s Mt. Disney on Christmas morning.


Is this real life?  Nobody at Sugar Bowl at 8:30 Christmas morning.

Is this real life? Nobody at Sugar Bowl at 8:30 Christmas morning.


The west face of Mt. Lincoln.

The west face of Mt. Lincoln.


Grant Kaye gets up early.

Grant Kaye gets up early on December 26.


All time or just an illusion?

All time or just an illusion? Photo by Grant Kaye.


Plenty of great skin tracks out there right now.

Plenty of great skin tracks out there right now.


Sneak a peak.

Sneak a peak.


Let the good times roll.

Let the good times roll. Photo by Grant Kaye.

Holidaze from Nut Hut Studios on Vimeo.

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The Force Awakens

Grant Kaye slays pow on December 20.

Grant Kaye slays pow on December 20.


By Rob McCormick

Skiing-blog.com has been observing radio silence since the pathetic end to last ski season. After a string of horrible winters I vowed not to post again until there was something worth talking about. That time is now. In conjunction with the release of Star Wars Episode 7, The Force Awakens, the Tahoe ski season has also awakened. A succession of modest but effective storms have gradually improved ski conditions to the point of being downright proper. Conditions over the weekend were cold powder. We are now experiencing a warm wet storm that looks to drop nearly 3 feet of snow at higher elevations. Squaw Valley is a mix of slushy glop at elevation 6,200 today while Alpine Meadows is nuking snow with gale force winds at elevation 6,800. Nothing is open but the bar at Alpine. A colder storm is expected on Thursday and Friday followed by a drier pattern for the holiday week. Wake up! It’s time to ski!

The snowpack is growing between Highway 89 and the Pacific Crest.

The snowpack is growing between Highway 89 and the Pacific Crest.


Geoff Forcier wakes up.

Geoff Forcier wakes up.


Nuking in Alpine Meadows on December 21.

Nuking in Alpine Meadows on December 21.


Apres skiing Mellow Fellow style. Truckee, CA.

Apres skiing Mellow Fellow style. Truckee, CA.

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