Howdy backcountry sliding enthusiasts and Happy Valentine’s Day! Mark here, reporting on conditions in the Eastern Sierra. The last weekend of January essentially brought the region its first big El Niño storm. It was more of a classic El Niño dump – coming in wet with rain around 9000 feet and then exiting quite cold, with temps dropping to single digits a mere 48 hours after the arrival of the storm. The cold exiting of the storm brought snow down to the valley floor and temporarily opened up some of our bigger descents down to the lower trailheads. Even the Southern Sierra managed to get a good slathering of snow for perhaps the first time this winter. Mt Tom was in reasonable condition; the South Fork of Big Pine Creek looked promising. It was actually a nice set-up for not only our Southern Sierra ski descents, but for the mountain range as a whole.
Then the high pressure ridge built up and we experienced unseasonably warm temps for a long stretch in the beginning of February. Much of the snow that blanketed the lower elevations of Owens Valley has been slowly melting. With such an extended period of high pressure, we currently have the typical smorgasbord of snow conditions. You name it – you’ll probably find it in our backcountry at the moment. Old powder on protected north faces. Early cycle corn on lower elevation sunny aspects. Supportable windboard on exposed alpine faces. Boot top wind buff on sheltered alpine aspects. Moments of sastrugi and suncrust. It’s all out there.
There are two upshots to this high pressure system. One, the warmer temps have improved our snowpack stability – meaning it’s been a great week for enjoying longer tours on beautiful sunny days. Just don’t forget sunscreen and sunglasses. Two, the ridge appears to be breaking down somewhat this week, with a refresher storm pencilled in for Feb 17/18. At the moment, confidence is not high enough to forecast precipitation totals, but there is a chance the system could dig south and give us more snow than expected. Another potential El Nino affect.
So get out there and enjoy the sun and mountains. And be ready to ski powder!
cheers, Mark Shelp