Small storms last Thursday and Monday combined with cold temps have finally made it feel like winter here in Tahoe. More terrain is coming into play and the skiing has been quite good. Forecasters are calling for the first big time snow event of the season later this week. This one looks to be measured in feet, not inches. Locals and business owners are hoping for a mega March to salvage what has been an extremely disappointing season so far.
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 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.
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?!?
The Eastern Sierra is in prime corn cycle right now. Lower elevations and approaches are melted out but above 9,000 feet is stacked!
Awesome skiing has continued into April with small storms buffing out great conditions for those who get out before it cooks.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.