Salutations backcountry skiers and snowboarders!
The backcountry season is open! That means we at SMG now continue our tradition of reporting on the current and recent snow conditions for the Eastern Sierra. As a reminder, This report is not an avalanche advisory, nor is it comparable to information offered by any avalanche information center. The Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center is the local avalanche center that keeps us all informed on snow and avalanche conditions for purposes of backcountry risk management. The information here is supplemental and may further assist your trip planning by describing skiing and riding conditions from the perspective of snow quality and enjoyment. Do not attempt to use this information as an indication of what terrain may or may not be safe. Conditions change rapidly and often this report contains information that has expired by the time it is published. This report covers select random areas from the Mount Whitney zone north to Sonora Pass. It features reporting from our network of guides and local enthusiasts who collectively contribute information and photos from their extensive personal and professional mountain reconnaissance. We publish 1-2 times per week, more if conditions dictate and the info is available. We start now and will report until the backcountry melts off in the late spring, then we transition back to our summer Alpine Conditions Report for climbers and walkers.
The Eastside air is getting crisp and the sun has that low angle glow all day here where the desert meets the mountains. We have had a pretty good start to the super-hyped El Niño 2015-16 snow season. Mammoth Mountain’s study plot at 9000′ has recorded 47.5″ of snowfall since October 16. With some cold, easily transportable snow on the ground, a few big wind events and some unseasonably warm spells in between cold snaps in the last month, the amount of settled snow currently at the plot is 16.7″. People have been getting out and sampling the goods in the backcountry, which haven’t been particularly good yet, but there is a general vibe of excitement around here for a real Sierra winter. Here is a report from SMG Ski Guide Mark Shelp after a foray to the East Couloir of Bloody Mountain near Mammoth Lakes:
The conditions are quite fun – if not a tad bit adventurous. As it is still not yet Turkey Day, there simply is not a whole lot of snow below 10,000 feet. If you can manage to find some filled-in pitches at or below this level, the skiing is quite good with beautiful, consolidated powder snow. The upslope wind events of the last system largely affected the ridge lines above 10,500 – thus making any protected skiing below this level a hoot. Obviously, the central problem is finding a decent amount of snow below this line. If you can, it’s still genuine powder skiing.Above 10,500 there is a mixed bag of snow, with north facing couloirs hit hardest by the recent upslope wind event. Bloody Couloir itself was blown almost down to the rock. The East Couloir did manage to hold some decent textured powder that was consolidated from the wind. There was also pockets of wind crust in the couloir.The major concern at the moment is still coverage. Backcountry travelers should be prepared for hidden obstacles under the snowpack at all elevations. Access is still an adventure at the moment due to lack of coverage below 10,000 feet. However, the right combination of protected skiing up high and silky powder down low can lead to a great adventure – just take care of hidden obstacles and ski safe.
The weather forecast shows a cold front to move into CA today and tonight, with below average temperatures and strong winds. Snow showers will continue through the Thanksgiving holiday and weekend, which means you might want to get out and ski/ride the 1-1.5 feet of new and save your holiday shopping for cyber-Monday.
Do make sure to check the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center (ESAC) website for the latest advisories when they begin in the first week of December, and in the meantime be extra careful out there. Slopes where the coverage is good may have avalanche potential. We already had our first avalanche fatality of the season here recently near Mount Whitney. Exciting news about ESAC is that it has reorganized this year as a private center with more and more regular snowpack summaries and 2 forecasters on staff. Look forward to a big upgrade this year. And come support the center at the season kick-off party on December 5th with avalanche skills and info clinics and a presentation by ski athlete, adventurer, and entertainer Todd Offenbacher!
Check back soon for more info about the evolving conditions throughout the season. Let’s all hope the hype pans out that the drought-busting, legendary, “Godzilla” El Niño is indeed “too big to fail“!