03/21 – California Backcountry Snow Report

Posted on Posted in Guides' Notebook

California Backcountry Snow Report – 03/21/2018

I’ll have another round.

After last weeks storms, the Sierra saw some of the best snow conditions of the entire year. On Friday snow conditions were so deep that if you weren’t pointing your skis down the fall line you weren’t going down the hill.

As with most snow storms, this size wind and storm slabs were the predominate avalanche issue throughout the Sierra.  We saw plenty of avalanches both in the Tahoe area and the Eastern Sierra.   While the persistent week slabs from the early season facets have been slowly gaining strength, they are still out there and still lurking.  Keep your fingers crossed that this problem resolves with another week’s storm.

California is very lucky we haven’t had a major fatality incident from this problem.

JB Dave California Ski Guides
The Bear Valley Powder Cat

Bear Valley – Its official, the Bear Valley Snow Cat is up and running for the season.  The JB (@californiamountainguide) and Dave took the Snowcat out this week and skied Sunrise Bowl, the East Ridge and even got into Horse Canyon.  The snow on South and West facing aspects had developed a crust which is now well buried under the new snow.

There is still some thin cover below 7,500ft on South facing aspects.  Except for the occasional bush, the North facing aspects were skiing very well.

This week we are forecasting between 4 and 5 FEET of snow with a moderate to strong south wind.


State of Jefferson Snow Guides Skiing
It’s Been Snowy In the State of Jefferson.

Shasta – New snow from the past couple of storms left groups in what they described as “Nipple Deep” if they stepped out of skis or snowshoes.

Matt Mahaney’s (@Matt.Mahaney) group was completely shut down over 11,600ft on Cassaval Ridge by deep snow and avalanche conditions.  Swirling snow near the gendarmes had deposited large quantities of snow well past the recent storm cycle.

Steady winds have left some scoured sections and wind slabs near ridge tops and above the Red Banks.  Much of the snow was blown into Avalanche Gulch were people were skiing good snow under the large slabs of the upper mountain.

Between Wednesday and Friday, the NWS is forecasting between 60 and 100” on snowfall above 11,000ft


Snowy Camp Under Lassen Peak
Snowy Camp Under Lassen Peak

Lassen National Park – Scott Becker (@osbeck622) got after it this past week in Lassen.  Deep waist deep powder made for hard trail breaking.  Difficult mountaineering conditions but spectacular skiing.  With light to moderate snow on the horizon for the Park, the snow should just be getting deeper and better until the temps warm up again.

The road is still closed at the at the Kohm Yah-mah-nee visitor center on the south side of the park.  On the north end the road is closed at the Loomis Visitor Center.

Forecast for this week looks like 55 – 80″ of snow at 7,000ft through Friday.  The temps should stay cold through the weekend keeping the powder soft.


Carson Pass – Tuesday night once again started with warm temps and sleet all the way to pass levels.  Recent wind slabs with the new warm moisture could likely lead to wet loose or wet slab avalanches in this area.  The upper north facing elevations had still been skiing in boot to knee deep powder prior to the storm.

Forecasted snows at pass levels were forecasted for 3 to 5 feet before the weekend with more snow higher on the peaks around the crest. 


Mammoth/June Lake – The last crews went out into June, Virginia Lakes and Mammoth zones last week.  While great snow was had it was important to take good safety precautions.  More whompfing and collapsing was present as well as one ECTP 12 in the Virginia Lakes zone.

The new snow should help the linger persistent layers at some point but will cause another round of avalanche cycles in the near term.

Forecasts on the Eastside vary wildly in elevation and location but we would expect anywhere from 2-4 feet.


The Rock Springs Hut is still down for the season after being damaged in last years heavy snow.  If you are looking for a hut trip in that area we have been using the North Lake Hut (SMC) and highly recommend it.


Mt. Whitney – Kique and Richard (@rp2climbflyrun) lead a cold and snowy trip onto Mt. Whitney this weekend.  With single digits above 11,000ft, the snow stayed powdery.  Kique best described the travel as swimming.

There is still thin coverage in the lower portions of the portal and the North Fork.  Travel is still a bushwack below the ledges and the road is still closed at the switchbacks below the portal.

The forecasted snow accumulations for the southern High Sierra as of this writing seems far less than the Mammoth Area but the forecasts also tend to be less accurate.  1-3 feet is expected between Wednesday and Friday night.