29 Mar Breaking Records, One Turn At A Time!
Snow. It is the leading topic of conversation among winter recreationalist, and this year even more so. While we are often worried about the lack of storms as we navigate dry winters, this year is one for the record books and there is no sign that winter is done with us yet. At last count, the Southern Sierra snowpack is at 283% of average for this date, and Mammoth Mountain has just reported the snowiest season on record with 695” at Main Lodge and 870” at the Summit. Few people have been unaffected by the storm systems, whether they live in the mountains or not. It has been no easy task dealing with flooding, road closures, avalanches that have destroyed infrastructure, suspended ski area operations, snow loads that are causing buildings to collapse, and the sheer amount of shoveling that this winter has required of us all. It has been quite the ride.
But along with all of the necessary dealing, this winter has come with some unforgettable skiing. Conditions this season have been excellent, with more days of deep powder skiing than many of us can remember. And with such a huge snowpack we have been enjoying visiting unique ski locations that are not often “in” anymore.
Over the past couple of months of never-ending storm cycles, our guides and guests have had to be flexible, but have been rewarded for their effort on avalanche courses and private ski guiding days. Our snowpack has been dynamic this season, and our students have had a lot to consider as they navigate safely touring in avalanche terrain.
Lately we have been able to take advantage of slightly longer periods between storms to shovel our roofs off and use the longer days to get higher into the big mountains. While we have not run any big Sierra traverses yet this season due to weather and snowpack conditions, Barbara just wrapped up a successful overnight tour from Mammoth to June in preparation for one of the iconic High Sierra traverses later this spring, and I just got back from a week spent basing out of Lone Pine during which we skied some of the classic Eastern Sierra lines in great snow.
Of note was a significant milestone passed by one of my regular ski and climbing guests. Two and a half years ago, Brian reached out to me to get back into backcountry skiing and climbing after a 20 year long hiatus. He has been steadily improving his skills and putting in the effort necessary to ski the big objectives in the range and has become one of my best ski touring partners. This week, with a run down the classic Independence Couloir, he passed the 100,000’ mark for vertical ascent on tours we have undertaken together (ending up with over 117,000’ by the end of the week!). This is an outstanding achievement, which was honored with a SMG jacket (way harder to get than the CMH “Million Vertical Skied” jackets!)
With another 3 feet of snow that has fallen just overnight, and stormy weather continuing in the long range weather forecast, it is safe to say that spring will be slow to arrive, but once it does, we can expect to have quality ski conditions well into June. Our guides are getting ready for big tours this month and next, from the Sawtooth Traverse to Palisade High Route and Bishop Skyline tours, and we are excited to get out there and explore the range on skis, which is arguably the best way to experience the Sierra.
Author: SMG Guide Ryan Huetter