Eastern Sierra Backcountry Snow Report – March 12th, 2016

In Conditions Reports, Eastern Sierra Backcountry Snow Report, From the Range of Light & Fast by Howie Schwartz6 Comments

Skiers and Snowboarders!

Happy late winter to you all. We took a brief hiatus from writing this report so that we could do some investigative journalism on the topic of why this winter has fallen so short of the epic proportions that were advertised. I sacrificed some well-earned personal Sierra ski time to instead make a journey into the heart of the Pacific, to the source of our Sierra weather, to see what the heck is going on. What I found was disturbing, yet understandable: El Niño has been on mid-winter vacation in Hawaii.


Traveling to the source of our weather, we observed El Niño taking a lazy February vacation in the tropics. Looking north from the island of Kau’ai – rain to the west and blue skies to the east.

“For those of you who don’t habla Español, El Niño is Spanish for… the Neen-yo” (R.I.P. Chris Farley). And Sierra Nevada is Spanish for “snowy range.” We have had every right to believe that we would see record snow amounts this season. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. Currently the High Sierra is looking at about 77% of average for the date. Remember that this data is collected from snow study sites that are generally above 9000′, so these numbers are likely an overestimate. South of Rock Creek the skiable snowline is now between 9000-9500 feet at best. Rain at the front of the last storm system wiped out a lot of snow below 9000′ everywhere on the Eastside. Mammoth to June Mountain still has skiing down to around 8000′ on more shady aspects, but places like Lee Vining Canyon are down to early season low tide conditions for over 1000 feet above road access.

El Niño returning home from Hawaii on Friday... almost.

El Niño returning home from Hawaii on Friday… almost.

A couple days ago El Niño tried to return home, but apparently it overshot us a bit to the north.  The storm again fell short of initial estimates with a snowline around 8000 feet and a lot of Eastside rain shadowing. We received 10″ or so at 9000′ on Mammoth Mountain and 4-5″ at the same elevation on June Mountain, 8″ at Agnew Pass, and only 3″ at South Lake near Bishop. This is providing a welcome surface refresh, without adding a lot to the coverage. In the alpine today, the wind is scouring most of this snow down to rocks and windboard. The forecast has another system with big winds and moderate snowfall amounts scheduled to impact the northern parts of the region Sunday and Monday, followed by high pressure for the next week.


We may be in for a period of tricky windslab problems so make sure you tune in carefully to the snowpack discussions published by the forecasters at the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center. There have been reports of recent human triggered avalanches in the area, which is direct evidence that there is some instability in the snowpack to be wary of.

Be safe out there and have fun. Hope to see you out in the backcountry sometime soon.
~ Howie

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  1. How are conditions shaping up for spring ski descents in the high peaks south of Bishop? I’m from out of town and am trying to decide if a trip is worth it this year. Any and all info is much appreciated.

    1. Author

      Just got word from some snow surveyors of nearly 100% of average snowpack just west of the Sierra Crest from Independence. That means it is quite good once you get up high. New report coming soon, stay tuned.

  2. Hi All – Do you know if you can drive to the end of the Onion Valley road. Would like to get up there this WE, 2/3 April. Phil

  3. Thanks for these updates. Nice to see conditions and pics of the eastside. Even from here in Truckee it is tough to know exactly what is going on down there. Looking forward to some turns in a couple weeks and again for a week in April.

    Thanks again,

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