‘CHOKING ON POWDER’
May 1, 2014
With temperatures in the low 70s and plenty of sunshine on the horizon, the 2013-2014 ski season is fading into seasons past. But, for those willing to walk, skin or snowmobile, Sierra peaks still hold a cache of late-season turns.
North-facing aspects and higher elevations will keep snow for weeks to come, even as swimsuits become the outfit du jour at Lake Tahoe.
Storms last week freshened up the snowpack and led to impressive conditions on Waterhouse Peak, near Luther Pass at the South Shore, on Saturday, said backcountry skier Dave Salazar.
"It was beautiful," Salazar said, "choking on powder."
What skiers and snowboarders will encounter in the backcountry always depends on temperatures and the weather, but getting out early and being back by the afternoon is a good goal for the spring, according to the Sierra Avalanche Center's spring advisory.
"Under clear skies, the top few inches of the snowpack will often refreeze despite near or slightly above freezing air temperatures," according to the advisory. "This superficial refreeze usually allows for a short period of good travel conditions during the early morning hours before surface wet snow instability becomes a concern. If a solid overnight refreeze occurs, getting out early and finishing in time to have a mid day barbecue should be your goal."
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The most recent observations on the site show the snow turning unsupportable for travel between 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., depending on overnight temperatures and snow conditions. The avalanche center advises backcountry travelers to be properly equipped and take an avalanche course before earning their turns. The center also warns of spring avalanche activity, urges people to use caution while traveling in the backcountry and monitor changing conditions.
"Start with east aspects and follow the sun to south, then to west, and finally to north aspects," according to the advisory. "Get off of your equipment on a regular basis and check boot penetration depth. Boot-top deep wet snow, significant roller ball activity, or any loose wet avalanche results from small test slopes all indicate that wet snow instabilities can occur. Moving to a different aspect with less sun exposure, terrain less than 25 degrees in slope angle without steeper terrain above, or simply heading over to the beach for a picnic all represent good choices for avalanche avoidance at that point."
Places like Carson Pass at the South Shore and Tioga Pass in the Eastern Sierra will be especially attractive to snow enthusiasts. Photos from April 8 from the Carson Pass area in mid-April give off a winter wonderland vibe.
Even as the beach becomes a more enticing option, the most dedicated snow enthusiasts at Lake Tahoe will be clicking into skis and strapping on snowboards into June, Salazar said, acknowledging this winter season has likely been better for mountain biking and rock climbing than backcountry skiing.
Still, for the motivated, the ski season doesn't have to end just yet.
"It will still be good up there for awhile," Salazar said.
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