From unrelenting drought to unrelenting storms, California is having a hard time making up its mind this season. December brought record breaking snow totals across the state, only to be followed by an incredible streak of high pressure and clear skies that lasted weeks. Even when storms broke the cycle of clear skies, they were small in comparison to the monster California storms that often deposit feet of snow in a matter of days.
The last two weeks have brought more snow than the previous three months on Mount Shasta! The Old Ski Bowl Weather Station at 7600’ is an awesome weather resource to find out how much snow Mount Shasta got. Over the last two weeks, the Shasta accumulated 41” of snow with over 27” in the last few days. And the storm is expected to drop another few inches over the next 24 hours or so.
We headed up to Shasta this week to sample the snowpack, get a firsthand account of the current conditions on Mount Shasta and to conduct a training program with the guide team. We had two days to ski and arrived on Tuesday to stormy conditions. Snow on the ground at Bunny Flat Trailhead was deeper and more supportable than we expected. We found snow depths there around 17” with fist soft powder on top of a supportable melt freeze crust from lasts week's storms - perfect for covering buried rocks and downed trees!
Winter camping on an early season ski mountaineering guide training on Mount Shasta. Photo Zeb Blais.
We set out on our overnight mission and picked a conservative zone to camp, out of avalanche terrain and sheltered from wind. Below Green Butte Ridge, we found the perfect spot that allowed us to assess the snowpack and protect our tents from potential winds during the storm.
Backcountry skiing through beautiful fresh snow on Mount Shasta's lower elevations on Tuesday. Photo Zeb Blais.
Snow came and went throughout the day, but winds remained surprisingly calm, with only light Southerly wind. This was surprising, as Mt Shasta can often be an incredibly windy place given that Shasta has nearly 10,000’ of geographic prominence!
At elevations below 9,000’ the skiing was incredible, with excellent coverage and a soft powder surface that skied better than expected. While the snowpack is basically starting from nothing at these elevations, the magnitude of the recent storms made it so that we didn’t hit any buried objects and the snow skied like 6-10” of powder on top of a supportable, firm pack beneath. The crust below the most recent snow protected us from hitting the ground below and didn’t impact the quality of skiing - it wasn’t noticeable with the fresh snow.
Up high, we could see the West Face and Avalanche Gulch had received significant snow as well. It wasn’t clear how deep the new snow has accumulated up high and that could change quickly with winds. Regardless, this new snow is a great thing to see on Mount Shasta and across California! For both ski quality and for a shorter fire season, we need it!
Winter camping low on Mount Shasta below Green Butte this week during a Blackbird Mountain Guides Ski Mountaineering Guides' training course. Current Conditions on Mount Shasta have deep unconsolidated snow on top of a supportable base! Great for skiing. Photo Zeb Blais.
We’ll provide another report for Current Conditions on Mount Shasta as soon as we get back down from the mountain in the next few days.