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    El Nino, What a Wild Rollercoaster over the last few weeks!

    El Nino, What a Wild Rollercoaster over the last few weeks!

    The last few weeks have been nothing short of incredible. Incredible skiing, incredible (incredulous?) storm hype, incredible winds, and again… incredible skiing. Tired of this overused adjective already? Read on, we’ll get more creative I promise.

    The week following the Feb. 18-20 storms was all time. Mammoth Mountain picked up 18” of storm snow by the morning of Feb 19, and another 10” overnight into Feb. 20. This storm came in windy, but the skiing near and below the treeline was as good as it gets. The rest of the week was calm, and we were getting after it every single day either for work or for fun (often for both!). 

    These are the days we dream about but rarely get during in the Eastern Sierra – a storm that leaves plentiful snow but without the winds to strip it away, and quickly falling avalanche hazard. A perfect week to enjoy teeing off in the mountains with guests and avalanche course students. 

    But wait, what’s this on the horizon? A storm tracking in from the Gulf of Alaska bringing frigid temps, up to 10 feet of snow and hurricane force winds? Well. The early March storm did in fact arrive, but what was most memorable were the winds. Blizzard conditions prevailed with more than 3 days of winds exceeding 100 mph, closing the highway and the ski area for days in a row. When all was said and done, and we were able to get out and survey the aftermath, it was evident that even though Mammoth Mountain Ski Area picked up 6” of SWE (snow water equivalent), which should have equaled 6-10 feet of snow, in many areas we had less snow than prior to the storm. Bare mountains, stripped surfaces and wind sculpted surfaces dominated the landscape. 

    But with winds, comes WINDBOARD! As our friend Glen Plake once said, “Powder is for Beginners”. Sure, powder is fun, but it is easy! To really know and love the Sierra means embracing the wind and all the various surface conditions it brings with it. So with that mindset, and a long-anticipated overnight tour scheduled for this past weekend, a longtime guest and I ventured into the Palisades armed to the teeth, to see what we could achieve.

    “Armed to the teeth”

    Despite a less than ideal forecast for skiing the high mountains, with strong enough winds to blow us over while skinning, our trip turned out to be a great success. Firm, edgeable and supportive wind crusts allowed for easy travel and enjoyable (at least predictable) skiing, with virtually none of the dreaded breakable crust we had feared. Sheltered, steep features still held soft snow, and we were able to ski two major ski descents which had long been on his short list of objectives, the NE Couloir of Norman Clyde Peak and the L-Shaped Snowfield on Mount Sill. 

    One of the “Dream Lines”

    After endless pitches down the glacial benches below Mount Jepson, we picked up our camp and skied out to Glacier Lodge, taking our skis off a mere 20 feet from where we had parked. 

    What will the rest of winter and spring hold for us? Who knows, we have stopped trusting anything that Reno NOAA has to say, but we are certain it will keep us on our toes!


    Author: Ryan Huetter, SMG Guide and IFMGA Certified Guide