Eastern Sierra Backcountry Snow Report – December 18th, 2015

In Conditions Reports, Eastern Sierra Backcountry Snow Report, From the Range of Light & Fast by Howie Schwartz1 Comment

Hi backcountry skiers and snowboarders,

The 2015-16 snow season is underway! Hopefully you have had a chance to reconnoiter with the white stuff, either at the resort or in the backcountry. If you haven’t, don’t worry, this season is still being hyped and prognosticated as the Donald Trump of El Niños, it’s HUGE!

Since the beginning of December, there have been 3 small to medium sized storms that have impacted our area. From these, Mammoth Mountain recorded 24 inches of storm snow at their 9000′ study site on top of a 24″ base of settled snow that started accumulating late October. The air temperature in December has been generally low and there have been a few wind events that have redistributed the snowpack hither and yon. What does this all mean for backcountry snow enthusiasts? That the snowpack is classic early season – shallow, weak, and variable.

As always, the primary consideration is avalanche risk and it is important to consult the snowpack summaries and recommendations offered by the forecasters at the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center. Remember, this report is entirely unrelated to your personal avalanche risk management and only refers to the snow quality as it relates to the enjoyment of the backcountry on-snow activities of skiing and snowboarding. That out of the way, the secondary consideration is snow depth. Eastside snow is deepest in the Mammoth Lakes Basin, the San Joaquin Ridge, and June Mountain areas, and in various catchment terrain features such as bowls, gullies, and couloirs in the high alpine where you may find 0-3 feet of mostly ride-able settled snow across mountain slopes above 9000′. The third consideration is the ground cover, and its height in comparison to the amount of snow that lies upon it. The fourth is how hard you want to work to earn your turns. And the fifth consideration is how much you value your ski bases, not to mention your soft, fragile, not-yet-hearty-enough-for-winter, body.

For these combined reasons, and probably others, it is hard for us to strongly recommend many places to ski the Eastern Sierra backcountry outside the all too familiar Mammoth Lakes Basin, the June Mountain lift-accessed backcountry (for the backcountry hardcore that also possess lift passes), and the high plowed road access at Virginia Lakes. That said, the crowds have been sparse and the snow has been outstanding. We have enjoyed several days of cold smoke powder skiing throughout these zones. After a bit of recent North winds and warming yesterday, there is more variability in ski quality. You could still find good ankle deep hero powder in more shaded and sheltered terrain above 9000′. The tide is low, so do be very careful about hidden obstacles lurking beneath the soft surface.

The forecast models indicate more snow on the way with another 1-1.5 feet over the weekend and possibly a more powerful storm on X-mas Day. We’ll let you know how that all pans out, but for now check out these recent images from the backcountry of beyond:

This video from 12/11 pretty much sums it up:


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