Eastern Sierra Backcountry Snow Report – May 14, 2016

In Conditions Reports, Eastern Sierra Backcountry Snow Report, From the Range of Light & Fast by Howie Schwartz2 Comments

Howdy Skiers and Snowboarders!

I am starting to write this on Friday the 13th. Spoooooky. But weather and snowpack out there are producing some down home friendly riding conditions for those that are keeping the stoke of glisse alive into the heart of spring. Last installment of this report, we talked about the below average snow cover that exhibited consistently high snow quality. Since then that has remained the case. The spring thaw was delayed by a series of small, cold storms in the last month that have freshened up snow surfaces, covered some bare spots, and provided some outstanding powder skiing on steep, north-facing slopes. That amazing pow is short lived this time of year. Last Sunday actually saw rain to ~11,000 in some places. Normally, that would be cause for alarm, but in our home range, thanks to freezing nighttime temperatures, this just helped transition the snow to spring corn faster. Though transitional snow may still exist in some shadier, higher places, it is shallow and well consolidated, so it still skis great. These spring days represent what Sierra backcountry is famous for and as long as the weather is decent, there are likely to be some all-time spring ski days to be had here on the Eastside in the coming few weeks.

The weather outlook is more of the same unsettled but nice spring weather. Expect some breezy, sunny days  and some days with a slight chance of snow showers for the next couple weeks. Freezing temps can be expected overnight for a while. The sun is high and strong and the days are long. Snow cover is disappearing from the thin areas quite rapidly so get it while you can.

Access is great right now. Skiable snowlines are around 9000′ at best in the areas that received most snow this year like Mammoth, the Ritter Range, and areas north of there. At this time, Hwy 120 is open at the lower gate but not at Tioga Pass. That means easy access to good snow and great terrain from the Eastside, without the western California crowds (sorry Westside suckas…). A hot tip – there is a lane plowed to the Pass so a trans-Sierra bike trip without the tourist road traffic would be possible right now. VA Lakes is still good if you want easy access to north facing runs. Twin Lakes requires 1500′ feet of walking to get to snow, but then it gets quite decent from there. Mammoth and south, The Lake Mary Road is bare and gated, but scheduled to open on May 17th. Hwy 203 has one lane plowed to Minaret Vista and is patchy with snow down to Agnew Meadows and dry from there. The Laurel Lakes Road is finally drivable, if you have the vehicle for it. Rock Creek Road is open to the pack station. Upper Buttermilk zone is still good for skiing. Bishop Creek trailheads are open since “Fishmas”. South Lake has good access to snow, North Lake and Sabrina require some walking and are patchy. Plan to walk to 3rd Lake in the N Fork of Big Pine Creek. South to Mt. Whitney expect to walk to 10,000 feet. There you will be greeted by a patchy and meager snowpack.

The last Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center bulletin of the season was issued around 10 days ago, but hopefully you will continue to use it to post relevant avalanche observations if you encounter any. Beware of loose snow avalanches, glide avalanches, and fresh windslabs through the end of the backcountry season. When in doubt, default to conservative terrain choices. Give yourself a healthy margin of error. Start and finish early when possible. Be safe and enjoy it out there!

This will probably be the last backcountry snow report of the season. Check out our Alpine Conditions Reports which we will start up in the coming weeks, featuring info for your upcoming hiking and high country climbing season!

Recent images from the backcountry:

Sawtooths Traverse April 23-26

Sawtooths Traverse April 2016 from Sierra Mountain Guides on Vimeo.



  1. Thanks so much, awesome information and photos. Do you think that the Sierra High Route is skiable on Memorial day weekend? We’re long ago from CA now living in Rhode Island. We watched in envy all year as you got pounded with snow while we were calling this winter in the East, “the winter that never was”. At any rate, we want to plan it, only have that time frame available, but don’t want to be walking 50% of the time. Thoughts?

    1. Author

      Hi Marty,
      The Sierra High Route is not a highly recommended ski touring itinerary right now. 90% walking west to Shepherds Pass. Mostly walking west to Kearsarge Pass. Dry below ~9500′. Patchy with a lot of rock exposed above that. Probably walking the west side of the route to the Tableland. There are other great tours to do right now north of Bishop with much more snow cover, but it depends on what % of walking you want to tolerate.

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