Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Checking in from the Sierra

Last Sunday the skis cleared over Tahoe, where a long-overdue Sierra storm laid down a thick coat of winter wonder. Mike Colpo from Patagonia sent us this dispatch:

The news reports were pretty accurate about last week’s storm… the Sierra did indeed get a good ol’ fashioned walloping:

Snowfall amounts on the Sierra Crest didn’t quite live up to the forecast totals (as high as 10 feet), but the higher elevations of the Mount Rose area helped the northeast corner of Lake Tahoe grab just over 6 feet of new.

(Parked next to a berm that didn't exist two days before. Photos courtesy of Mike Colpo)

Six feet of new was enough to bring a whole host of local shots into the game. Local skiers had been whittled down to precious few backcountry options before the storm, but each forecast update meant new additions to the “to do” list. Six feet of Sierra snow is an intimidating dump, any way you slice it, and the firm glaze on the old-snow surface was reason enough for prudence. So Day One after the storm found us on some well-treed south-facing shots that, before the storm, were completely free of snow. As much as I hate to admit it, it was too deep Dropping a knee—even on a south-facing shot below the filtering canopy of thick timber—brought me to almost a complete stop as waist, chest, then shoulders sank into the pillows of collected snow.

(Toby gaining ground on the stormy ascent.)

(Jimbo makes turns in the uber-deep. Storm skiing at its best.)

Continued cold temps and snow through the weekend keep the freshness intact. Moguls refused to set up at the local resort, making for fun chop-charging, but the winds started to kick up. By Monday, the steadily improving avy forecast and consistent, reliable stability tests were enough of a green light to give the treasured Credit Card shots (ski now, pay later) a go. Quick access to over 2,000’ of open pow is hard to resist, after all, even if the run always ends with the climb back out. Clocking winds out of the north, then east, were sufficient to hammer these lovely gems into a marginally enjoyable mélange of soft pow, wind buff and breakable crust. Bringdown.

Our last hopes lay with Tuesday night’s storm, which brought another foot to the Rose area. A reliable north-facing glade dropping from just over 10,000’ clear down to a large open apron of snow at 7,800’ was the call for dawn patrol. Alas, we must not have offered fitting propitiation to the snow gods. Despite its normal promise of protection from the elements, our little local stash had been fully and completely worked by the wind. Oddly, the more tree cover, the worse the conditions. The only soft snow to be found lay in subtle folds of open terrain that happened to collect some wind-deposition.

(Lee finding the whole gamut on Rose).

Yesterday’s warm temps were the nail in the coffin of Sierra snow conditions. At 2 pm the call came in from 9,100’: “Guys, it’s CRAP! I’ve got 854 lbs of glop clinging to each skin. I can’t move!!”

So today, it’s off to the slightly more continental snowpack of the Toiyabe Range, deep in Nevada’s interior. With a little luck, the pow might still be holding on.
-Mike Colpo

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