Skiing Stoke from Lake Tahoe

Author: Rob (Page 1 of 27)

Loss of a Legend: Robb Gaffney

Robb Gaffney on my last ski day with him, on my birthday, January 19, 2023.

By Rob McCormick

Beloved Tahoe local, Robb Gaffney, lost his four-year battle with Leukemia on September 22, 2023. Robb was a longtime friend of SBDC contributors, Rob and Susan McCormick, and frequently featured in this blog. Robb was more than an amazing skier, he was an amazing person.

New residents of North Lake Tahoe: Robb Gaffney and Rob McCormick in Olympic Valley, October 1994.

Melissa Siig from Moonshine Ink asked me to write a piece on Robb after his passing.

Rob Gaffney and Rob McCormick

Remembering a Friend: Going High and Deep with Robb Gaffney – Moonshine Ink


Who will get picked up first? Hitchhiking at Berthoud Pass circa 1992.


Robb Gaffney in Granite Chief Wilderness March 2019


I wrote about one of my favorite adventures with Robb, in a zone we call  the Land of the Lost, back in 2013. 


Robb’s celebration of life at Olympic Valley Stables on October 6, 2023.



My signed copy of Squallywood.

The Glass is Half Full

This doesn’t feel like 50% of normal. Rob McCormick in SLT Backcountry.

We are about halfway through a ski season we knew would be strange from the start. Despite the clutch of Covid, NorCal skiers have much to be grateful for. Ski areas have been able to operate with Covid protocol and the lifts have kept spinning. The skiing has been remarkably good considering we have been hovering around 50% of normal snowfall for most of the season. On the downside, coverage below 7K was thin until late January and a persistent weak layer has been lurking for most of the season. Traffic has been insane on big snow weekends and restaurants have only been serving to go food but those are first world problems, right? An atmospheric river that fell entirely (and atypically) as snow kicked us into high gear at the end of January. A few more refills since then have kept the glass half full.

Perfect surface conditions but spooky layers deep in the snowpack between Christmas and New Years.
A persistent weak layer formed on December 11 has required skiers to make wise terrain choices for much of the season.
Feelin’ slabby?
Know before you go.
A cold late January system dropped 4 to 6 feet of snow and opened up the low elevation trailheads.
The late January storm also brought the crowds. Squaw One line on January 29.
Welcome to the pleasure dome.
Grant Kaye enjoys steep, stable pow on Valentine’s Day.
Greg Martin drops into the icebox.
Pow day!
Robb Gaffney slays mid winter corn.
Lawn chairs, cooler, and camp stove in your car at ALL times = pro level tailgate.

Strange Days

Dreamscape or nightmare? Squaw Valley sits idle on April 6, 2020 as the Coronavirus pandemic sweeps the planet. Photo: Scott Gaffney

As fall turns the corner to winter, it’s hard not to ponder what the ski season will bring. To call last year strange would be an understatement.

The 2019/2020 season started off innocently enough with consistent snowfall in December and good ski conditions that prevailed into the new year. Unfortunately the good times did not continue to roll and by the end of January NorCal slipped into a high pressure vortex that would last the better part of two months. Tahoe City received one inch of snow in February making it the driest since 1988. With nary a flake falling from the sky, February 2020 was quite the yang to the record breaking yin of February 2019 which exceeded 300 inches.

Meanwhile, Covid-19 started creeping into the national consciousness. By early March it was impossible to ignore. Given its extremely contagious nature, goals of containment quickly morphed into mitigation scenarios at best. As infections surged, unprecedented lockdowns were instated throughout the country. The North American ski industry took the extraordinary measure of closing operations in the middle of a peak winter weekend. That weekend (March 13 through 15) coincided with the first real snowfall Tahoe resorts had seen in two months. Saturday was a full on storm skiing day and Sunday everything was closed. The following week, stay at home orders kept people from going to work, only permitted to leave for essential services. As storms continued to pound Northern California, anxious skiers started sneaking into the backcountry. For those who ventured out, the second half of March was a surreal, utopic powder experience while the planet went silent. Ski resorts never reopened.

The upcoming ski season seems rife with uncertainty. As temperatures cool down and people move inside, Covid-19 infections are ramping up at alarming rates. Vaccines show promise but world distribution isn’t going to happen overnight. Most ski areas plan to open with some type of Covid plan. Eliminating day ticket sales, reducing or pausing season pass sales, limiting indoor vending and requiring face coverings and social distancing are some of the many tools anticipated so far. Chairlifts will be loaded in family units or singles on opposite sides of the chair. Will these new protocols work? Will the ski season happen, albeit under a new normal? Will ski resorts survive with limited food, beverage and retail concessions? Will rampant infections shut down the entire industry again? Will ski touring become the only option and if so, will unexperienced skiers change the backcountry dynamic? Time will tell. will report what we see. No matter how strange it may be.

Alpine Meadows in mid December, 2019.
Apres skiers at The Goldminer’s Daughter in Alta. February 28, 2020. Two weeks later every ski area in the country would be closed.
Winter returned to Tahoe in mid March.
Mark Durgin seeks reprieve from quarantine. March 19, 2020.
Life was strange but the skiing was strangely good. March 25, 2020.
Susan McCormick puts her Zoom meeting on hold.
Squaw Valley remains untouched after weeks of storms. April 6, 2020.

The Lost Sierra

by Rob McCormick

The north face of Mt. Washington as seen from the summit of Eureka Peak.

The northernmost portion of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range ends in a stunning yet frequently overlooked region referred to as the Lost Sierra. The Gold Lake Highway (closed in winter) runs parallel to this range of peaks and lakes which is bookended by the spectacular Sierra Buttes to the south and Eureka Peak (formerly Gold Mountain) on the north end. The entire region is rich in mining history and was the epicenter of the gold rush in the mid 19th century.

Stamp mill from the mining era in Plumas Eureka State Park.

In the fall of 2014 I hiked the Eureka Peak Loop trail and saw terrain on Eureka Peak and neighboring Mt. Washington that I vowed to come back and ski in wintertime. The ski terrain on both mountains starts at the relatively low elevation of 5,200 feet which makes them unlikely objectives during leaner snow years. That said, the bountiful winter of 2019 stacked the region with a healthy snowpack and created ideal conditions for exploring the Lost Sierra.

Perfect corn in the east gullies of Eureka Peak.

I recently hooked up with local Dave Carmazzi and found good snow on the north face of Mt. Washington one day followed by perfect corn on the south face of Eureka Peak the following day. Eureka Peak can be accessed from the parking lot at the base of the old Eureka Ski Bowl or the museum at Plumas Eureka State Park. Mt. Washington can also be accessed from the museum or from Jamison Mine Road. Eureka Peak and Mt. Washington offer relatively easy touring routes and a variety of descents from breezy to rowdy. Both mountains have large avalanche paths (particularly in the Jamison Creek drainage between the two peaks) and should be navigated with caution or avoided altogether during dangerous snow cycles.

Dave Carmazzi enjoys 2,300 vertical feet from Eureka Peak into the Jamison Creek drainage.
The south face of Eureka Peak has plenty of tasty lines to choose from.

The simplest and safest option for storm days or backcountry newcomers is the old Eureka Ski Bowl which has the remains of two poma lifts and a modest ski lodge. The ski bowl is home to annual longboard races which pay homage to the miners who raced huge skis made from timber back in the mid 1800’s.

Abandoned poma lift at the old Eureka Ski Bowl.

Plumas Eureka State Park is located an hour north of Truckee via Highway 89 and about six miles west of Graeagle. From Graeagle, take route 506 past Mohawk to the tiny town of Johnsville. About a mile past Johnsville the road dead ends at a parking lot which is a popular starting point for snowshoers, nordic skiers and backcountry enthusiasts of all types. From the parking lot you can skin up Eureka Ski Bowl to Eureka Lake and Eureka Peak.

North Peak lies just to the northeast of Eureka Peak proper and can be mistaken for its true summit.
Rob McCormick on the south face of Eureka Peak with Mt. Washington in the background. Photo by Dave Carmazzi
You never know what you will stumble across in the Lost Sierra.

After a day of adventuring you can quench your thirst at one of several watering holes in the quaint and cozy towns of Graeagle and Blairsden. The Knotty Pine Tavern, Gumbas and the ever popular Brewing Lair are fine locations for sipping a drink while reminiscing the days highlights. If you are heading back to Truckee and want to break up the drive at the half hour mark you can hit Los Dos Hermanos in Sierraville.

Another lazy day in Graeagle.

Here comes the sun

Donner Pass

After weeks of storms and overcast the sun finally came out and exposed a new landscape in the Tahoe Region.

A little slice of Alaska right here in the Sierra Nevada.
Windslab avalanche on Mt. Judah.
Mark Durgin finds perfect corn outside of Bridgeport, CA.
Suns out and so are the crowds at Squaw Valley.


Mark Durgin has the deepest day of his life on Sunday, February 17, 2019.

This ski season is officially off the rails. Three enormous storm cycles have rocked the Tahoe region over the last three weeks, each of a magnitude that would stand out for an entire ski season. The heaviest snow has fallen on weekends and kicked off the first, second and third weeks of the month as “best ski day in a decade” type conditions.

The Tahoe region averages one storm a season which drops three feet of snow in 24 hours. We have received three such storms so far this month. The all time February snowfall record has been broken just over halfway through the the month. Locals are beat down from shoveling and endless snow removal routines. The powder skiing has been all time day after astounding day.

Just when you think you are done shoveling a roof-a-lanche adds another hour to your schedule.
Town of Truckee rolls out the heavy artillery late into the night.
Rob and Ethan McCormick sink into the powder vortex at Homewood.
Squaw Valley’s Tram Face is stacked and racked. Photo by Grant Kaye.
Another picture perfect day in the Truckee backcountry.

Another week, another storm

Exploring the Lost Sierra as another storm moves in.

Before the snow quality from last week’s storm could decline, another system pounded the Sierra Nevada. Squaw Valley received just under 4 feet of snow in 24 hours. Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows did not open on Sunday in order to dig out and conduct extensive avalanche mitigation. Both resorts opened nearly all of their terrain at once on Monday morning resulting in a powderhound feeding frenzy. It seemed nearly every local in the region took the morning off and traffic from Truckee and Tahoe City reflected this. Low snow levels with the last two storms have made this an opportune time to pursue elusive ski descents down to the desert floor in Nevada. Don’t look now but even more chaotic weather is headed our way.

Scott Gaffney hucks Main Air in the Fingers at Squaw Valley.
Bro, have you seen my car?
Savoring the post storm goods.
Robb Gaffney drops 5,000 vertical feet into Carson Valley.
…and here’s the chaotic next chapter. Torrential rain!


As good as it gets at Squaw Valley. Photo by Kevin Quinn

This winter went from great to amazing as a four day storm dropped five to eight feet of snow over the Tahoe Region. This one finished with a day and a half of blower pow that resulted in truly bottomless ski conditions. Squaw Valley’s legendary KT-22 opened at noon on Tuesday, February 5 just as the skies cracked bluebird. MSP Filmaker and North Tahoe local Scott Gaffney called it the deepest sunny day he’s ever skied at Squaw. Ski touring was nearly futile as pole plants pushed into the abyss and ski tips were prone to submarining. Cold temps this week are keeping the trees looking like a Dr. Seuss winter wonderland. If one can obtain Nirvana through skiing, this must be what it looks like.

Trenching in the backcountry.
Mark Durgin makes the most of lunch break at Squaw Valley.
Squaw Valley just before noon on February 5, 2019.
Farming pow at Alpine Meadows.

2018/19 Ski Season So Far: Situation Normal

Ahhh! Winter!

How refreshing it feels to be in the midst of a perfectly normal, average, standard ski season. Feast or famine style winters seem to have taken a hiatus as we chug along with pleasant consistency. A warm and dry November was followed by a snowstorm the first weekend in December and we’ve been in good shape ever since. Storms have rolled through and refreshed the mountains in well spaced intervals. A couple of the larger systems were puking fluffy blower in the early evening hours only to be pissing rain by midnight. Fortunately conditions morphed into wintry bliss within a day or two. If one could complain about anything (and one really shouldn’t), it would be that elevation 7,000 feet seems to be the new normal for snow/rain line. That said, the last storm cycle plastered a good solid base down to 6,000 feet so lake level trail heads are now in play. Advance weather reports are calling for two to three feet of snow this coming weekend. And it’s only January.

Pondering options in Desolation Wilderness.

A sneaker pow day in mid December. Dusting in town = 6 inches up high.
Glorious ice on New Year’s Day.

Peek a boo!

We’ve come a long way since November.

Miracle March Delivers

Feels like a miracle has happened in the Tahoe backcountry. Photo by Grant Kaye.

Mother Nature continued to save the soul and spirits of Tahoe riders with another massive one-two punch snowstorm over the course of four days. By the time it stopped snowing ski areas were digging out from 100 inches of new snow. Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows received over 40 inches in 24 hours. People were claiming Saturday to be one of the deepest days of their lives. What started as one of the worst seasons on record seems poised for a dramatic comeback. With over 150 inches of new snow this month we can start officially calling it a Miracle March. More snow is forecast for later this week so it seems the gift will keep on giving. Enjoy!

Stairway to heaven.

Alpine Meadows on Friday afternoon, March 16, 2018.

Grant Kaye floats through nearly 100 inches of new snow near Donner Pass.

Skier: Rob McCormick. Photo by Grant Kaye.

Deeeeeeep. Skier: Grant Kaye

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