Column: South Shore’s backcountry staple

Dylan Silver
South Lake Tahoe's Mikaela Bianchi slashes a turn near the top of Powderhouse Peak last week.
Dylan Silver | Dylan Silver Media

If you’re a backcountry skier or snowboarder, it’s important to have that safe spot when it’s snowing as, hopefully, it will this weekend. For many at the South Shore, that spot is Powderhouse Peak.

The accessible slope is great for beginners, but also has more advanced terrain for those looking to bag some steeps. Because of the mountain’s position, the snow often stays powdery for weeks after a storm — though weather can always change snow conditions. Also, the 2,000 vertical-foot hike is not exhausting and can warrant multiple laps for hikers in good shape.

What I like most about the peak, though, is that no matter how hard it is storming, I almost always feel safe dropping into those long tree lines. There are fun pillows and boulders to pop off. When the snow has settled a bit, the eastern bowl offers more technical cliffs and chutes. It’s like a mellow playground for backcountry skiers and riders.

But, as it goes, word of great snow and fun zones always gets out. On weekends, the parking lot below the peak is jammed bumper to bumper. While it’s nice to see so many people enjoying the lift-free experience, you better know the mountain well if you’re going to get an untracked line.

“What do I think of Powderhouse? You better get it on the first good day or there’s going to be a lot tracks,” said South Lake Tahoe splitboarder Mikaela Bianchi. “It’s not so much of a local’s secret as a everyone’s favorite these days.”

For a while, I forwent the peak for other less crowded, steeper and more open mountains. But I’ve come to terms with the modest spot’s popularity. It’s actually kind of nice to have a place to share. I like the smiles along the trail and the sound of dogs happily barking. It gives you a sense of the backcountry community, which is all too often spread far apart.

Of course, Powderhouse along with its neighbor Waterhouse have their share of backcountry danger. Though much of the north-facing slope is below the tree line, there is still risk of avalanches. Tree wells and other obstacles are also factors that should be considered. But when the wind is howling and the snow is falling an inch an hour, there are few better places to be. Maybe we’ll see you there this weekend.

Dylan Silver is a freelance writer and photographer in South Lake Tahoe. He can be reached at, or

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