Eastern Sierra Backcountry Snow Report – January 20th, 2017

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

Good day to you backcountry skiers and riders,

And a good day for all of us. We did it! Our collective pleas to the snow gods have been answered. A little late, but wow. The call has been answered in force. As I write this during a much needed rest day it is snowing huge flakes at around 2″/hour at 4000′ elevation in the town of Bishop.

It has been a while since our last report, but I think everyone here knows by now that the atmospheric river events of the past couple weeks played out pretty much as forecasted. Insane amounts of water (>20″ of liquid water equivalent) hit the Sierra Nevada. A healthy amount of that was rain up to 10,000′, especially in the beginning, but tons of snow too. the Owens Valley saw shovel-able snowfall amounts in the valley bottom at 4000′. Consecutive storms prevented the snow from melting in the desert but migrating freezing levels did take some of the snow away at the lowest elevations. The last storm in the series finished cold and left us with a dense base with 1-2 feet of cold powder (aka “the good stuff”) on top that fell with virtually no wind. Then the skies cleared, the temperatures cooled, and the masses immigrated for the MLK weekend. Reports were of 22,000 people at Mammoth Mountain with 3-4 hour commutes from Main Lodge to the Village at the end of the day, and even 1-2 hour lift lines at June Mountain with a line that circumnavigated the parking area. But for those that earn their turns in a more active and healthy way, last Friday to Tuesday represented a magical and rare convergence of blue skies, perfect powder, low elevation snowlines, and relatively low avalanche hazard that makes the backcountry skiing here in the Eastern Sierra worth rearranging your life for. I am fairly certain that couples have broken up and jobs have been lost as a direct result of this past weekend. Skiable backcountry conditions down between 6000-7000′ have meant that it has been possible to ski runs of 6000-7000′ of perfect powder in the Eastern Sierra from craggy alpine summits to the desert sagebrush (Sage To Summit anyone?). To anyone that has experienced that in any conditions, it is a world class experience, but to do it on a bluebird day in calf deep powder from top to bottom is rare and precious. Of course, in such circumstances you had better hope you checked out the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center‘s latest avalanche advisory and other information resources there, and made a plan to manage elevated risk in perfect snow and the temptation that awaits groups of skiers and snowboarders seeking face shots and personal glory.

On Wednesday, the temperatures warmed dramatically and the winds began to blow. South of Mammoth, it started raining lightly up to almost 11,000’. And like that, it was gone. Cold smoke turned to warm cake batter. We needed a break anyway. It was too good. Now we are in the midst of yet another storm series forecast to supply 10-11″ of water to our California snowpack through Monday. That is generally, roughly 10-11 feet more snow, though the NWS forecasters are conservatively calling it 3-4 feet in the High Sierra. This is on top of 2-3 feet that fell starting on Wednesday afternoon. The storms are forecast to get progressively stronger and colder with snow accumulating at 4000′ and above. There are a lot of reasons to avoid Mammoth on a busy January weekend, but this particular weekend, the best Eastside backcountry experience is probably going to be storm riding in the high desert. Or, if you are staying in Mammoth or can brave the drive up there, feel free to offer to help local residents and businesses dig themselves out. It is going to be difficult and time consuming for our ski town community to clear the roads and remove the snow at this point.

These are historic proportions and a record January in the making. The biggest January recorded at the study plot on Mammoth Mountain was 182″ in 1995. We are at 144″ now with a lot more on the way. CDEC is calling the Central and Southern Sierra Nevada as measuring between 88-95% of the April 1 snowpack average for water content, and 168%-197% of normal for the date. We’ll take it!

Snowfall history on Mammoth Mtn.

CDEC comparison graph at time of posting.

In the meantime, we hope that you have plans to enjoy the wonderful snow in a safe and thoughtful way this season. We hope that the information in these reports will continue to be helpful in your backcountry trip planning, or at least enjoyable to read. Let us know if you would like to hire a guide to help you continue your education and development, or just want to have some fun in the mountains during an amazing season. Spring multiday tours and available weekends throughout the season are filling up quickly and we would recommend highly that you experience what the Sierra has to offer in snowy seasons like this one.

Leave a Comment