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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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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 Tahoe region received a legitimate powder day earlier this week when a spring storm dropped over a foot of snow.
Last ski season was so bad one would have thought it nearly impossible to get any worse. 2015 managed to do just that. Many Tahoe resorts closed very early and some barely opened at all (Homewood and Donner Ski Ranch). California is in the midst of a severe, multi-year drought. Governor Jerry Brown has instated mandatory water restrictions on both agricultural and civilian consumption. The Sierra snowpack is an astonishing 6% of normal. Historical scientific trends are not reassuring. Paleo-climate data indicates we have suffered two, 100 to 200 year droughts in the last 1,200 years.
A Tale of Two Winters: Photographs below of Squaw Valley on March 30, 2014 and March 30, 2015. 2014 was a very poor ski season but improved drastically toward the end of March. 2015 has proven much worse with snowpack withering away for weeks by the end of March.
As the Tahoe ski season sputters to a finish, backcountry skiers looking for more turns should check out Mt. Lassen. The peak offers bountiful climbing and skiing options which allow you to ski wherever the snow is good. The road through the park is not open yet but it probably won’t be long. It’s currently about a 20 minute walk to snowline from the Devastated Area parking lot on the north side.