Eastern Sierra Backcountry Ski Conditions

Eastern Sierra Backcountry Ski Conditions


Chris celebrates after an incredible Eastern Sierra snowboarding descent while backcountry skiing in the Eastern Sierra mountains

Blackbird Guide Chris Cloyd, stoked in the Eastern Sierra Backcountry Photo: Geoff Quine


2024-04-21  |  Mt Emerson, Mt Dade, Mt Gibbs, CALIFORNIA


Spring has sprung on the Eastside, and the corn harvest is ON! The last week has included some of the best skiing of the year so far, and the conditions are only improving as we head into May. A brief pulse of new snow the weekend of April 13 refreshed the alpine, and since then a consistent and predictable spring diurnal cycle has taken hold. This has created “unicorn” backcountry conditions in the Eastern Sierra, with sheltered, high-elevation northerlies holding boot-top pow and wintry snow while solar aspects are offering up classic California corn skiing!

Brian Stenerson finds powder while snowboarding Mt. Emerson's Zebra Couloir in the Eastern Sierra Backcountry.

We found boot-top powder hidden within the walls of Mt. Emerson's Zebra Couloir. Rider: Brian Stenerson Photo: Chris Cloyd


Snowboard and ski tracks on Mt. Dade in the Eastern Sierra Backcountry

We found ripe corn on an East aspect below Mt. Dade! Photo: Chris Cloyd

Access is also improving as roads are getting plowed for fishing opener this upcoming weekend. As much as we love carrying our skis on our backs, it’s always a pleasure to ski back to the car. Rock Creek Road is currently plowed to the Pack Station and there’s snow on the road all the way to the parking lot, making for easy egress at the end of a big ski day in Little Lakes Valley!

Ski touring splitboarding backcountry skiing in the Eastern Sierra

Brian Stenerson and Ashley Epis ski touring in Little Lakes Valley. Photo: Chris Cloyd

This week Blackbird Guide Chris Cloyd found winter snow in north-facing couloirs on Mt. Emerson after a long walk from Aspendell. Travel on the way up was a mix of sagebrush-whacking, skinning on refrozen sun crust up the Birch Creek drainage, and booting winter powder inside the walls of the couloirs. The view from the summit of Mt. Emerson was tremendous, and even that was surpassed by the quality of our turns on the way down! Our descent included some unbelievable April skiing and riding in the couloirs followed by softened spring snow heading back to the cars below Bishop Bowl. 

CA-168 is plowed and open to just past Aspendell as of 4/21/24.

Couloir snowboarding skiing in the backcountry skier snowboarder mountaineering Eastern Sierra

Chris Cloyd topping out the North Couloir on Mt. Emerson. Photo: Brian Stenerson

couloir Eastern Sierra skiing snowboarding backcountry

Mt. Emerson's Zebra Couloir in all of its glory. Photo: Chris Cloyd

Snowboarder in the backcountry Mt. Emerson couloir Eastern Sierra backcountry


Chris Cloyd performing a professional "vertical snow quality assessment" on his way down the Zebra Couloir. Boot top powder in April! Photo: Ashley Epis


As the week progressed, solar aspects started to improve as the corn cycle deepened. Heading up to Little Lakes Valley on Thursday, April 18, we found excellent midday skiing on an East aspect on Mt. Dade. We were able to use skins the whole way up the Hourglass before transitioning to bootpacking with axes and crampons to the summit of Mt. Dade. Coverage up high is incredible! Looking out toward Lake Italy (to the Southwest) and down the Ruby Lakes drainage (to the North) we were thrilled to see such a healthy spring snowpack. We descended a spicy line on the East side of Mt Dade and were able to ski/ride almost 2,500 feet before transitioning to split-skiing at the lowest Treasure Lake! The consistent snow coverage all the way down the valley to the Pack Station made for an easy exit, as we were able to ski to our car!

Rock Creek Road is plowed and open to the Pack Station, 1.25 miles from Mosquito Flat as of 4/21/24.

climber skier snowboarder mountaineering Mt. Dade Eastern Sierra Backcountry Bear Creek Spire


Brian Stenerson on the summit of Mt. Dade, Bear Creek Spire in the background. Photo: Chris Cloyd 


skier snowboarder ski touring backcountry Eastern Sierra mountaineering Pipsqueak Spire


Brian Stenerson and Ashley Epis bootpacking the summit slope of Mt. Dade, Pipsqueak Spire in the background. Photo: Chris Cloyd


Mt Dade Eastern Sierra backcountry skiing snowboarding


Mt. Dade, viewed from the Treasure Lakes. Photo: Chris Cloyd


Rock Creek Ruby Lakes Eastern Sierra backcountry skiing snowboarding


There is plenty of snow in the Ruby Lakes drainage! As seen from the summit of Mt. Dade. Photo: Chris Cloyd


On Saturday, April 20 we noticed the the weather forecast called for some clouds in the morning. This had us concerned that the solar aspects may not soften as early as desired, so we pivoted back to chasing winter snow on northerly aspects up high! A short dirt walk up Horse Meadow Road out of Lee Vining brought us to the snow line below the Gibbs Lake, and we were able to skin all the way past Gibbs Lake, up to Kidney Lake, and even further west up the moraine at the head of the drainage into the high cirque hidden just Southwest of Kidney Lake. Here the pitch steepened and we transitioned to bootpacking with axes and crampons as we continued up the North Face of North Gibbs (the real Mt Gibbs is actually almost a mile Southwest of the summit of North Gibbs/Peak 12,565).

Mono Lake Mt. Gibbs skier ski touring mountaineering backcountry skiing


Geoff Quine climbing the North Face of North Gibbs, with Mono Lake in the background. Photo: Chris Cloyd


couloir backcountry skiing Mt. Gibbs


Just a few of the many couloirs and chutes on North Gibbs. Photo: Chris Cloyd


Mt Dana Yosemite skier Eastern Sierra skiing backcountry mountaineering


Geoff Quine (bottom left) climbing North Gibbs, with Mt. Dana in the background. Photo: Chris Cloyd


couloir eastern sierra skiing splitboarding


Our descent route, the North Couloir of North Gibbs. It doesn't look like it, but you can ski this line cleanly from the summit ridge all the way to Kidney Lake! Photo: Chris Cloyd


The views from the summit of North Gibbs are outrageous. The entirety of the Mono Basin sits below you, with almost 6,500 feet of vertical relief down to the lake. After a long lunch on the summit, we descended the North Face about 1,000 vertical feet before banked hard riders right into North Gibbs’ hidden North Couloir. The steep walls shaded almost the entirety of the descent down to Kidney Lake, and we were overjoyed to find cold winter snow for the next 1,000 feet down to the lake. We enjoyed a hefty helping of corn skiing descending the East-facing headwall down to Gibbs Lake before transitioning to split-skiing and exiting down the drainage back to our cars. Throwing on sandals at the car in 60 degree sunshine hammered the point home:

Eastern Sierra Spring Skiing remains undefeated!

Tioga Pass is still closed at the lower gate as of 4/21/24.

Skiing conditions and access should only improve over the next 2-3 weeks, so get down here while you can! You can track the weather and conditions from home as we shift into a spring diurnal cycle heading into May by using our Eastern Sierra Weather and Climbing/Skiing Conditions Page.

Take advantage of the excellent skiing conditions and book a Private Backcountry Ski Day or a 3-Day Ski Mountaineering Course with one of our expert Guides today!

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