Welcome Back Winter!
Published by Jeremy Benson on
Anyone who lives and skis in California or the Pacific Northwest knows that a "good" winter has been a long time coming. Four years in a row of below average winters, the last two being among the worst on record, have left skiers throughout the Golden State, including myself, questioning their choice of where they live to ski. Over that time, ski areas have struggled and backcountry skiers have been limited to a handful of higher elevation zones. This season, however, thanks to a strong El Nino, we are off to an incredible start, and hopefully the drought days are behind us, for now anyway.
This season is the first since the huge winter of 2011 that we've had a snowpack at lake level, 6,225 feet. In fact, I've shoveled more snow at my house this winter than I have in the past four winters combined. The storm door seems to have been left open, and so far it has been snowing at least once a week since the middle of November, and staying cold to boot. This has opened up the skiing in the backcountry pretty much everywhere around Lake Tahoe, Truckee and the Sierra all the way down to Southern California. It has been very refreshing to have options, other than mountain biking, and everyone has been reveling in the fact that we can ski in so many places that haven't even been a consideration for several years.
Many people feared that they'd "forgotten how to ski powder" because it had been so long, but after the first storm or two it seemed like most people had gotten back their ski legs. Others finally mounted up those powder skis that had been sitting in the garage, brand new and untouched, for the past few years, finally confident that every run won't require rock skis. The general attitude around town is noticeably lighter and happier, with rosy cheeked skiers exhausted and stoked from the seemingly endless string of powder days. People are fired up and staying that way. It didn't take long for most people to remember why they moved here and decided to stay. When it's on in Lake Tahoe there are few places in the world that can compare.
Backcountry zones along the west shore of the lake, especially around Emerald Bay, which are typically some of the most popular around the whole lake, have been as good as they get, and the eager and pent-up backcountry skiing masses have been savoring the fresh snow and good coverage like never before. Literally hundreds of lines and faces that have sat unskied for years have seen tracks this season, and its only mid-January. We're all hoping that this weather pattern continues and the law of averages plays out in our favor. Either way, we have the best snowpack that we've seen in years and there is more snow in the forecast.
That being said, my short term memory is still pretty good, I'm only 36 years old after all, and I know that every storm could be the last. Making the most of every powder day is a priority because you never know what the weather is going to do.
If there is anything that we've learned, it's that we have to get it while the getting is good, and having a lightweight backcountry kit for all-day sessions while maximizing good snow is essential. I choose the Deuter Pace 30 for my all day backcountry missions. This minimalist ultralight top-loading pack helps cut down on weight, while not sacrificing on comfort or storage, which keeps me charging uphill and downhill longer. At 30 liters this pack holds absolutely everything I could possibly need for a day in the backcountry, while the compression straps keep my load tight if I don't fill the pack.
We've got a good snowpack and the snow keeps coming. The stoke is back and life is good in Lake Tahoe. Welcome back winter, we've missed you!