Skiing Stoke from Lake Tahoe

Month: January 2013

Land of the Lost

Photo: Grant Kaye

By Rob McCormick

This has been a great ski season so far with plenty of quality powder skiing. Until recently though, I had not really dug into my tick list of bigger objectives in the region. Once the storms abated and conditions stabilized, I began to look toward a tasty zone northwest of Truckee. Local bush pilot Kevin Quinn flew me over the area two years ago and it’s been firmly engrained in my brain ever since. The east to west ridgeline features rolling bowls and gullies, majestic cliffs, gorgeous tree runs and striking couloirs. The remote location that is not easily viewed from anywhere only adds to the intrigue. The time had come to check it out. My ski partner in crime Robb Gaffney was up for the mission. The fact he owns a snowmobile didn’t hurt. Our goal was to work our way into the region and see how it played out. Actually skiing something was of secondary importance. We had no idea what we were in for.

The upper cirque which marks the highest point of the ridgeline.

An hour long snowmobile ride ate up the five mile approach and placed us at the north end of a huge basin. Leaving the sled behind for the day, a short tour brought us to the top of the ridgeline and our first glance into the zone I had been thinking about for two years. The first thing we noticed was that north aspects were still holding unconsolidated powder despite recent east winds. We gazed down into steep glades which rolled over into the abyss. We continued along the ridge to the top of a cirque which I had seen from the plane. It was wind scoured and littered with rocks so we traveled a bit further and came to the top of a long, steep, north facing couloir. We skirted around an overhanging cornice and a quick pole scrape told us the snow was good. We knew the low January sun wouldn’t affect the north side so we decided to check out two southeast facing couloirs we had seen on the approach. It was 11am and they were in prime shape for an amazing morning corn descent. Robb dropped into the skiers left couloir and I took a dogleg entrance into the skiers right. We descended between radiant rock buttresses for about a thousand vertical feet of buttery goodness. It was barely noon and the day had already exceeded our expectations.

Our day began with descents of these southeast facing couloirs.

Dogleg from Nut Hut Studios on Vimeo.

A quick skin brought us back up to the top for lunch and another look into the north facing couloir. Robb entered first and made turns down perfectly edgable steep snow which sluffed hundreds of feet below. I went next and was amazed at how good the conditions were. Massive rock walls and northern exposure had kept this gem in perfect shape despite recent winds. Once at the bottom and full of smiles, we skinned up and started working our way west, constantly looking up the ridge to examine options. The first thing we passed was another large couloir, which started just to the skiers left of the one we skied. The entrance to this one was far more challenging, most likely requiring a rappel or a few very exposed turns. Once in though, it’s about as classic as you could ask for in a backyard discovery.

Robb Gaffney drops into the unknown.

Photo: Robb Gaffney, Skier: Rob McCormick

Skier: Robb Gaffney

The author checks for Sleestaks. Photo: Robb Gaffney

Good to the last drop.

As we continued on, I was blown away by how rowdy the entire region stacked up. If we had dropped into the first sightline we looked into, we would have come upon huge ice bulges, cliffs and other technical challenges. My view from the plane two years earlier had left me with the impression the terrain would be fairly easy to navigate. I now have a new found respect for how complex the entire zone is. We finally came to a frozen lake and a reasonable ascent route. On our way back up, Kevin Quinn and Grant Kaye flew directly over us on their return from ice fishing on Independence Lake. We later discovered Grant had snapped some great photos of the couloir we had just skied (see title photo).

The couloir next door.

The captivating view from Kevin Quinn’s plane in January 2011.

Back at the snowmobile, we sipped a couple of celebratory beers before heading back to civilization. We felt completely stoked to have accessed a thrilling new ski paradise. It seems some of the best days unravel when your only expectation is to explore something new and see where it leads you. We will pay attention to conditions and plan to visit again when everything lines up. Until then, we can only dream about returning to the Land of the Lost.

Next mission…find a way into this one. Photo: Grant Kaye

Thanks to Grant Kaye for aerial photos from 2013. You can check out Grant’s photography website here Grant Kaye Photography

Sportgevity hosts Steep and Deep Avalanche Clinic

Sportgevity is proud to be a part of Lel Tone’s Steep and Deep Free Avalanche Awareness Clinic this coming Saturday January 19th, 2013 at the Plaza Bar in Squaw Valley. Doors open at 6:30pm. There is no greater opportunity to come in contact with experts who really know their stuff with regard to avalanche science, awareness, and safety. Speakers will address a variety of issues, including the all important human factors in decision making. If you venture into the backcountry or ski inbounds after deep storms, this clinic is a must.

Presented by the Squaw Valley Avalanche Rescue Dog and Education Fund.

Cold Sweat

Grant Kaye harvesting cold smoke in the Truckee Backcountry.

Tahoe residents woke up to sub zero temperatures this Saturday and Sunday. Last week’s new snow is still skiing great on north aspects. Temperatures are expected to warm up into the middle of the week. Perhaps we’ll see a corn cycle fire up before it snows again.

Silver and Gold Peaks

The Crystal Ship from Nut Hut Studios on Vimeo.

Sportgevity hosts kids avalanche class

Rich Meyer leads the team toward a huge fracture on Granite Chief.

Mountain Guide Rich Meyer, Squaw ski patroller Will Paden and Sportgevity founder and local psychiatrist Robb Gaffney teamed up to host the first ever avalanche awareness class for kids at Squaw Valley. Six big mountain team member kids ages 11 to 13 were treated to an exciting and informative session at Squaw Valley. Much of the course took place under the crown and on the debris field of a class three avalanche that ripped down Granite Chief during the massive Christmas storm cycle. The course covered many topics ranging from backcountry travel techniques to avalanche awareness and safety. The course also touched on human factors and reviewed modern technology such as avalanche beacons, slope angle Iphone apps and avalanche airbags. The kids learned a ton, had fun and even got in a few nice pow turns on the shoulder of Granite. Hopefully this will be the start of a new evolution in avalanche awareness and mountain safety for kids. Sportgevity is a campaign founded by Robb Gaffney which focuses on sustainability and longevity in the sports we love.

Sportgevity Website Coverage of the Kids Avalanche Course

The kids check out a six foot avalanche crown on Granite Chief.

The kids get a little classroom time in the Squaw Patrol room before heading out.

Veteran Squaw patroller and avalanche expert Will Paden shared a wealth of knowledge and insight with the kids.

Hanging in there

Robb Gaffney takes a break to enjoy the view last Saturday.

A variety of conditions could be found in Tahoe last weekend. Elevations around 9,000 feet ranged from wind crust to chalky, while protected north aspects at 8,000 feet still held great powder. Higher elevations could get up to a foot of snow by Friday which would be a welcome refresher.

The snow at 9,000 feet wasn’t so great last Saturday, but this zone about 3 miles west of the the Sierra Crest sure looked tasty.

Rob Anthony winds down a ten mile tour with perfect pow.

Hanging in there from Nut Hut Studios on Vimeo.

Happy New Year!

Delicious December from Nut Hut Studios on Vimeo.

Cold temperatures and overcast skies kept snow conditions perfect from Christmas to New Years. This is a refreshing change after last season when every good ski day seemed to turn to crud overnight.

The skin track.

Squaw Valley

Robb Gaffney in the Truckee Backcountry.

Looking towards Desolation Wilderness on New Year’s Day.