South facing terrain as seen from Mountain Run at Squaw Valley on February 10, 2018
The tremendous ski seasons of 2016 and 2017 seem like a distant memory now that Tahoe is in the throes of another horrifically lean winter. How bad it is it? Historical snowfall data has us trending with the three least snowiest of all time. If we don’t receive substantial snow by the end of February (which is looking likely) we could end up with the least snow in history up to that point. It’s hard to fathom that we are already grasping for a miracle March as our best and only hope. Although a strong finish is possible, a look outside is more likely to induce flashbacks to the not so distant drought cycle of 2012 through 2015. While mid mountain base depths are adequate, there is virtually no snow at elevation 6,000 feet.
Great ice skating was the silver lining to an extremely dry December.
Despite the somber season thus far there is still plenty to be grateful for. Modest snow events have kept ski areas in the game and groomers and off piste (at times) have skied remarkably well given the circumstances. Temperatures in the 50’s and 60’s have inspired some people to ride bikes, go for a hike or paddle on the lake. Sometimes you just have to find a nice patio to drink beer in the warm winter sunshine and remember that after all it’s still sunny California. Life could be worse. But for reals can we please get a late season miracle?!?
Those looking to hit the road in search of powder should consider Montana which is having a splendid season. Lone Peak at Big Sky on January 21, 2018.
Mt. Warren serving up heaps of good corn!
The Eastern Sierra is in prime corn cycle right now. Lower elevations and approaches are melted out but above 9,000 feet is stacked!
Chris Stewart ascends South Peak with Lundy Canyon and Mono Lake in the background.
Pick your poison.
Harvesting a perfect crop in Lundy Canyon.
South Peak in Virginia Lakes.
Red Lake Bowl looking like Tuckerman Ravine’s distant cousin.
Steph Brodi and Robb Gaffney step it up on Black Mountain.
Kyle O’Neal gets squeezed.
Hot springs near Bridgeport.
Camping in the Eastern Sierra.
Donner Summit backcountry.
Awesome skiing has continued into April with small storms buffing out great conditions for those who get out before it cooks.
Slide debris on Donner Peak.
After you ski you get to apres-ski!
Mother Nature finally took her foot off the gas pedal in March and we have transitioned into smaller snowfall events followed by warm weather. A deep snowpack and plenty of sun equals California skiing at it’s best.
Morning glory on March 23.
Sixteen year old Noah Gaffney skis the Eagles Nest at Squaw Valley on Saturday, March 25.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Dude where’s my car?
Truckee River on January 8 before rain turned to snow.
Sampling the product in the Truckee backcountry.
Wet storms caked the Fingers at Squaw Valley.
Aaron Pope goes deep.
Squaw Valley over MLK weekend.
Pop n’ Fresh
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.
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.
Pacific Crest and Mt. Lincoln.
Tuesday morning glory.
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.
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.
Playing hide and seek at Sugar Bowl on January 31.