After wallowing in self pity and cursing the weather gods for bringing summer to Maryland in January, I decided to take matters into my own hands and go to Tahoe where I had been hearing the rumblings of a another wave of huge Sierra precipitation. I was not disappointed.
After clearing the pass on Rt. 50 late Sunday night we decided that we would hit Kirkwood for our first day of skiing. We awoke at 6 and checked the ski report, the pass was open and it was all systems go for making turns at one of my favorite mountains. After a slow drive over Carson Pass we arrived at the Kirkwood parking lot and were greeted with the sounds of hand charges being used up on the cornice at The Wall. Nothing like the sound of explosives on the mountain to get the blood pumping! It was snowing hard all day, the famous (infamous?) Sierra Cement was coming down and soaking the masses and we loved every minute of it. We began the day by heading out on the high traverse over Sentinel Bowl where we found deep, heavy snow in the trees and between rock outcroppings. While those who were up earlier cut it up, it was less than tracked out and a joy to make tight, hop turns in. After a few more runs we headed over to the Wagon wheel lift to see what was happening over on that side. What we found was a maze full of people waiting for the chair to open the goods up on the Wall. The avy work had delayed the start of the chair and we would be some of the first to enjoy the goods at the summit below some of the large cliffs that define Kirkwood. As the chair began to load there was a mighty surge of energy from the impatient crowd, whistles and woohoos were being released like wild birds. Once at the top of the Wagon wheel we unloaded into about 100 yards of pure avy debris. This snow was difficult to say the least. Chunked up by the slide with air pockets below and about as uneven as snow can be. I took a digger and began a slide that landed me 50 yards down the pitch, below the lift and the yelps being rained down on me by those above. I composed myself, traversed skiers right about 200 yards and proceeded to make a perfect snake track through about 900 vertical feet of knee-deep, untouched snow. I thought my grin would become a permanent facial feature, it was for the rest of the day.
After another 30 inches of snow fell on Kirkwood Monday night we were unable to get up the pass. The CalTran guy who was running the chain checkpoint said chances were slim the pass would open at all on Tuesday. So after wasting a lot of time driving out there we decided to check out Sierra to escape the winds that were blowing around 50 mph on the higher summits. The snow that had fallen on Kirkwood had also graced Sierra to the tune of about eighteen inches. The temperature had dropped dramatically overnight and the snow had become drier and fluffier. Sierra was chosen for its shelter, a 50 mph gust can freeze a man in his tracks and neither of us were interested in becoming a popsicle. We spent most of the day in Sierra's West Bowl area as the back bowl was closed for avy work. What we found was knee-deep fluff amongst the Ponderosa Pines, virgin and untouched by the small crowd that had braved the pass on route 50. We spent the entire afternoon alternating in the trees between Clipper, Horsetail and Powderhorn. The bar at the base of the west Bowl Express was cranking reggae and everyone was thoroughly enjoying the afternoon. At about 3:00 we headed back to the front of the mountain and were greeted with a freezing fog at the summit. After a few runs in the trees around Eastabout the visibility was giving out and we called it a day at about 3:50, thoroughly satisfied and looking forward to the sunshine the weatherman was promising for Wednesday.
Wednesday was another Kirkwood day. After receiving another 20 inches during the day on Tuesday they were far and away the best bet for one more day of freshies.
We began the day with a few warm up runs on the groomers as the front side was looking pretty tracked out. Working our way skiers right we found some fresh between the cliff bands of Norms Nose, it was light and dry, not what one would expect in the Sierras but a blessing from Ullr. The rumor mill had the backside opening soon so we headed up chair 2 to investigate. What we found was about 40 people eagerly awaiting the word from Ski Patrol when the rope would drop. After about 15 minutes it did and pandemonium ensued! A wild stampede to the bottom of chair 4 and the goods, untracked for over 10 days, of the backside. We were the 8th chair to the summit. A traverse to skiers left and I dropped into a wide-open shoulder of untracked snow that was hundreds of yards wide. I felt a mighty whoop emanate from my throat as I floated through the sweetest, deepest snow on the mountain. Down through a gully between two huge rocks, a giant sweeping turn around a few pine trees and I was on the cat track running full bore back to the lift. I needed more, craved more, nothing mattered in the world but more freshies, more turns, more face shots! We spent the entire rest of the day on the backside. Hiking out on the ridge above The Wave and its huge avy debris in search of fresh tracks. Hiking the saddle and finding the deepest snow of the trip in the trees where the shade keeps the snow cold and dry and the wind blows it in over the cornice of The Cirque. I skied until my quads started to quiver, my hammies were screaming out for rest. Then we had to leave. A two-hour journey to Sacramento, a red-eye to Dulles, and back to the Maryland rain. An amazing journey behind us and a much-needed three day weekend ahead. If you're considering Tahoe for a trip this year, do it. If you have a few sick days to use, take the Jet Blue red-eye, you will not be disappointed. Nirvana awaits, I have sampled it, and it is good.
Over and Out...
I've often heard the snow out there referred to as "Sierra Cement" due to it relative high water content. What do you think?
Awesome read Pig. You lived up to your name. Mission accomplished! You got me stoked out of my mind.
Nice writing. There is nothing like the anticipation of effortless turns, the panic to beat the crowds, and the strategy planning of a powder day. It's Christmas morning for grown-ups. A Red Bull followed by a Mountain Dew chaser.
And when you finally score the goods ...
My eyes just popped out of my head. WOW!!! Talk about the ski opportunity of a lifetime. Pig, I'm glad the stars aligned and you experienced a little slice of heaven.
What!?! No pictures? Dude, come on. You're killing us! Nice descriptions though. Thanks for the report.
You have good taste in ski areas: Kirkwood, Wolf Creek, etc.
Out of curiosity, what skis were you using during the powder days? Mid-fats, fats or East Coast? Or are you a snowboarder?
I was on a pair of demos: Salomon Pocket Rockets, they frickin ripped! needless to say Im now in the market.
I have some pics but none are action pics, when Im skiing Im way to focused to actually stop and take pictures. Especially when Im pigging out! I can post some photos I took of the surroundings, lake, etc. I just need to reformat them so they are not such large files. Would you guys like to see them? if not I wont bother.
Heres someone elses photos of Sierra on the 11th: Deep Sierra
Would you guys like to see them? if not I wont bother.
You're kidding right? BRING EM ON!
Hey Pig, glad you made it out there, sorry you had to come back. Those picks of Sierra look like they're right out of Powder Magazine. 18 FEET. Unbelievable.
I noticed your friend had Volkl 6 Stars. How did they perform in these conditions???
Was he as happy as he looks???
The water contents is why they call it Sierra Cement. When it's on the ground, it will freeze so it becomes crunchy (but not really hard packed). But when you catch it as it snows, it's typically lighter than ours buy not as light as Wasatch or Champagne powder.
Very Nice Pig! I'm stoked about heading out there for my first time in Mid-March. I'm sure some of the 18' of snow will still be there.
Hopefully, I get to experience some powder like you found. Thanks again for a great detailed review.
Tahoe!! Here I come!
.. tick tock tick ..
Less than 48 hrs for me...
I am heading to Tahoe on Jan 20th.
Well, I didn't see you on Sunday at Whitetail... Make some turns for my and my daughter....I'm jealous
Wow, Sounds like a kick ass trip. Good work pow hunting.