The Judah Ridgeline, looking uncharacteristically devoid of ski tracks.
Donner Summit Backcountry Ski Conditions
Blackbird Guide Zeb Blais toured up on Donner Summit up to Mt Judah today. Getting into the backcountry definitely poses a challenge at the moment, with plenty of thin cover, exposed rocks and tree limbs.
However, once you're up high there is good snow to be had. It is definitely not open season - there are lots of thin spots even up high and the avalanche hazard is still moderate. A lot of this terrain has northeast aspects, which is where the persistent avalanche problem is lurking, so use cation and make choices with the understanding that persistent layers bring higher degrees of uncertainty. This means skiing where the problem exists naturally increases your risk acceptance, whether you're aware of it or not.
The last storm came in warm and wet. Luckily it finished cold and left behind roughly 5" / 12cm of new snow on top of a thick rain crust. The upper snowpack is skiing well, with a combination of faceted new snow and rimed surface hoar on top.
Snow conditions were fast and fun, with rimed surface hoar on the surface of the sugary new snow making it fun to slash turns. I'm still skiing cautiously based on thin cover and sometimes inconsistent snow quality, but the rain that consolidated the snow below the surface is provides a little more protection from sinking all the way to the bottom of the snowpack.
Short term, low sun angle and short days are helping to preserve the snow quality. The snowpack is better than it was just after the storm, but it's healing slowly. If we can get a cold snap to solidify the moist layers in the snowpack, we will end up with a solid, low hazard snowpack soon.
Long term, we need some snow!
The Avalanche hazard is hard to pin down at the moment. There have been few significant skier triggered or natural slab avalanches and obvious signs of instability (whumphs, shooting cracks, collapses of the weak layer) have not been reported recently. However, formal snowpack tests in the forecast area are producing results that indicate the potential for serious avalanches.
The Sierra Avalanche Center has been providing tons of detail on their findings and the forecast remains at Moderate due to a persistent slab problem at all elevations on NW-N-NE Aspects. Not the most encouraging problems to be having. Be conservative, understand the problem at hand and avoid terrain that could harbor large, connected swaths of the persistent weak layer. Especially avoid challenging terrain with weak spots in the slab and steep roll overs.
The Castle Peak Backcountry from Judah Ridge. Photo: Zeb Blais.
Make smart choices out there!
As discussed in the Sierra Avalanche Center Avalanche Forecast and information provided by our guides above, careful route finding, and avoidance of avalanche terrain are critical to not get caught in an avalanche given the touchy nature of the current snowpack!
More Photos of the North Lake Tahoe Backcountry Today:
North Facing terrain under the reflector tower on Judah Ridge in the Tahoe Backcountry. Photo: Zeb Blais.
Castle Peak from Judah Ridge in the Tahoe Backcountry. Photo: Zeb Blais.
Judah Ridge in the Tahoe Backcountry with Donner Peak in the background. Photo: Zeb Blais.
Judah Ridge in rare, untracked conditions. Photo: Zeb Blais.
Cold Stream Canyon Ice...Not looking too icy at the moment. Photo: Zeb Blais.
Coverage is still thin below Judah Ridge. These rocks were invisible from November through June last year :) . Photo: Zeb Blais.
Looking down from the summit of Mt Judah. Trestle Peak and Schallenberger Ridge are looking like they could use some snow. Photo: Zeb Blais.
A nice run with fast, cold snow below Judah Ridge in the Tahoe Backcountry. Photo: Zeb Blais.