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    If you are still fired up to ski the backcountry, the Sierra Nevada is living up to it’s name this spring. Read this definition for the name of our favorite mountain range, the Sierra Nevada: 

    In 1776, Pedro Font’s map applied the name to the range currently known as the Sierra Nevada. The literal translation is “snowy mountains”, from sierra “a range of mountains”, 1610s, from Spanish sierra “jagged mountain range”, lit. “saw”, from Latin serra “a saw”; and from fem. of Spanish nevado “snowy”.

    Although the start to this season was slow and we didn’t really get to start skiing until January, we are now still enjoying great skiing above 9000’  After more than a decade of either unusually wet or unusually dry years, snowpack in the Sierra Nevada was close to normal in 2024. Snowpack throughout the Sierra Range was 110 percent of average on April 1, 2024 according to the California Department of Water Resources. (DWR) 

    To get to the snow line, high elevation road access is needed. Check out the Inyo County road open/ closed status here and the Mono County road closures here. 

    Hwy 120 to Tioga Pass is still closed at the lower gate in Lee Vining Canyon at this time. 

    The best and most continuous coverage is on northerly aspects. In some gullies the lines extend even below 9000’ where old avalanche debris from this season offers pretty smooth corn skiing. Above 10500’ there is great  coverage except on wind scoured aspects and steep rocky terrain features. . 

    The art of finding where the best turns are at this time of year, is understanding the relationship between the overnight low temps, the daily high temps and the intense solar radiation working the snow surface. I like checking the weather frequently on the NOAA site. Here is a point Forecast for Sabrina Lake at 9199’. We are looking at overnight lows ranging from 25 to 31 in the next few days and daytime highs up to the mid 50’s. With a good overnight freeze during the next several nights, this temperature regimen should make for great corn skiing if you can time your descent with he best snow surface quality. Remember that the best corn turns are the ones in 1’’-2’’ of loose corn snow. Not the ones in 6’’ to 12’’ of slush that wants to take you out at every turn. 

    Calculate the time it will take you to hike to the top of your ski descent, arriving there early enough to catch the perfect corn skiing window. Consider the time of the sunrise and remember that the highest elevation slopes facing East and Southeast will receive the earliest sun in the day and will be baking in the sun while you are still hiking up in the shade. It’s time for alpine starts my friends! 

    Summit fever is real, but great corn skiing is all about timing your descent right. I am definitely not too proud to rip my skins and start skiing down when I see that my timing to reach the summit was off but the corn skiing is perfect.

    Unfortunately, there is yet another “nuisance” storm in the forecast for this coming weekend with 1” -2” of new snow, cold temperatures and high winds. This will create a short lived interruption in the corn cycle.

    Even on warm days, expect to find cold and firm conditions on northerly aspects above 10000’ . This is especially true for steep, shaded and north facing couloirs and chutes. These may start to soften as the daytime temps are starting to creep higher again. Make patience your best friend when waiting for the right day, time and conditions to tag one of these cool but high consequence lines.  In my opinion, it is never worth side slipping down a frozen chute that never softened only to be gripped the whole time. The risk of a slide-for-life down the entire couloir is simply not worth it. 

    To do well in this spring skiing pursuit, bring all your sharps to the game. Even low angle slopes will be frozen hard in the early morning. So ski crampons, boot crampons and an ice axe are going to be crucial to your success. 

    Lakes above 9000’ are still frozen but extended warming could change that. Creeks around 9000’ are still partially covered with snow. Below that elevation they are more and more open and can present a challenge. 

    Although ESAC is no longer publishing daily avalanche forecasts for this season, it is worthwhile to read their spring time travel advice here.

    Enjoy looking through the pictures below and we hope to see you out here in the mountains soon. 

    Barbara Wanner and your SMG crew.