Happy holidays backcountry skiers and riders!
Hope y’all had a fine summer. Maybe it even included some scampering in the High Sierra on dusty trails, scree-filled gullies, and large fields of talus, uncivilized as that may sound. The season of backcountry fun is upon us, and that means the reinvigoration of our venerable Eastern Sierra Backcountry Snow Report. Last season at this time we sat around with our boards all waxed and ready to go, but the season didn’t turn on until mid-January. This early season, we have barely had time to re-grow the hair on our legs, armpits, and bikini lines from summer bicycling and beach season before we are now freeriding with reckless abandon in the Eastside backcountry – at least a few of us are who haven’t yet wrecked their gear or bodies on shallowly buried rocks and stumps…
Yes, snow started to accumulate at the end of November and into the first week of December. This has left us with a first coat of what will hopefully become an epic winter snowpack. The first storms were dense and coated the bushes and rocks of the desert down to around 6500 feet. It looked like we would see more storms to cover that, which would have fared extremely well for our season, but alas, another example of where computer forecast models are really not much better than the human analogs they aim to replace. Some near misses and split flows have sent anticipated follow-up storms and atmospheric rivers elsewhere. So we are busy short-milking what little snow we have.
Fortunately that snow is pretty darn good. Expect to find the best snow, faceted ankle to boot-top pow, in places where the most risk of dry-docking exists (the irony, go figure!). This will be found on low angle sunny/snowy or any angle shady slopes, especially at lower to mid elevations with trees or other wind sheltered terrain. In the alpine, expect to find a typically shallow and variable early season snowpack. There is a mix of wind crusts, supportable and unsupportable wind slabs, and surface facets on all but the most sun exposed slopes. Where it is sunny, expect to find mostly breakable sun crusts and/or “hot pow” conditions until you reach low enough angles where the sun is not intense enough nearing mid-December.
Though our most adventurous and jonesing community members are sampling conditions in places like Convict, McGee, and the Dana Plateau, most will be content to stick to the high access points above 9500′ such as Mammoth Mountain, Mammoth Crest, the San Joaquin Ridge, June Mountain Backcountry (June Mountain slated to open Dec 15th), and Virginia Lakes (currently plowed to Trumbull).
But the bottom line is: watch your bottom line! That is, the bottom of the snowpack and where it is relative to your boards and limbs. Don’t prematurely ejaculate yourself upon the backcountry this month. Practice tantric patience and restraint (much as is required to be still reading this far down into this report). Go slow out there and focus hard on what might be lurking beneath so that you can have a lasting 2018-19 backcountry season. We need more snow. Forecasts indicate it may come as early as early next week.
We’ll update this snow report when an exciting amount of new snow arrives and we go check it out for you. Yes, that is what we do for you. We get up in the morning and work tirelessly, all week long, skinning up and riding down thousands of feet of untracked powder to get you the vital early season information you rely on here. Until then, feel free to follow our Instagram or Facebook page. Be sure to re-up your membership with the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center, give a much needed and well-deserved donation and catch up on the reports to date since December 1. Take an AIARE 1 or 2 avalanche course, do a course refresher day and/or sign up for a companion rescue day to upgrade your skills. Now is a good time to plan and prepare for a season of excellent backcountry decision making! Be safe and enjoy! ~ Howie