State of the Backcountry…It’s On!

By Rob McCormick

I spent Thanksgiving week in Florida soaking up eighty degree temps while salivating over Tahoe weather reports as storm after storm pounded the Sierra Nevada. I heard rumors of “chest deep to rocks”, patrol sleds stuck on Mountain Run, a six foot crown in Chute 75, Kirkwood and Alpine pushing the 100 inch mark and cars so buried you could not identify them. By the middle of the week it became obvious something special was happening. Many resorts reported some of the highest November snowfall totals on record. By Thanksgiving Day the Tahoe Region stood at roughly 25% of its average annual snowfall.

The abundance of early season snow implied the backcountry might be worth a taste test to see if things were getting underway ahead of schedule. Upon my return Friday night I made plans with my touring buddies, packed my gear and prepared to head to our favorite stash on Saturday with the possibility of an encore visit on Sunday.

We began skinning from elevation 6,100 at around 10:30 Saturday morning.  An hour and a half later, and 1,800 vertical feet higher, it was snowing heavily with winds gusting from the southwest. The Sierra Avalanche Center (www.sierraavalanchecenter.org) had reported north and northeast aspects most likely for slide conditions. We dug a pit that showed an unstable layer at about 8 to 10 inches. Based on conditions (heavy snow with rapid loading) we opted to ski mostly lower angle north facing terrain. It was fantastic powder! Surface sloughs were common on anything over thirty degrees. We experienced one skier triggered slab avalanche with about a 6 to 8 inch crown.  It ran a short distance onto more gradual terrain. It was definitely a day to play it safe so we stuck to the trees and stayed away from tempting yet dicey steeper terrain and open faces. It was an awesome first backcountry day of the year.  So good in fact that we decided to return the following day.

Sunday brought colder temps, sunshine and a far more stable snowpack. We were able to ski steeper lines with minimal movement. The snow was wispy, dry and delightful. After a couple juicy laps we headed into Truckee for burritos and beers at Bills. Our early season teaser was a smashing success. We found that not only is the backcountry ready to go…it’s about as good as it gets. So go get some!


Jeff Wright does some eye level snow scanning (photo by Grant Kaye)


The author samples November pow (photo by Grant Kaye)


The State of the Backcountry November 27 and 28, 2010

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