Total settled snow depth: 16 inches as of December 17, 2014
Skiing Conditions and Weather: The winter rangers arrived to Tuolumne Meadows this week and this is our first conditions update of the season. We will be updating this report weekly this winter. We are happy to report that things are looking and feeling a lot more like winter around here than last season. We were able to ski from the 9000 ft. elevation in Lee Vining Canyon all the way to Tuolumne Meadows. The ski conditions and snow coverage are good making for ideal winter travel. Snow depths in the area range from 16 inches to 32 inches depending on aspect and elevation. South aspects will average less and are still pretty bony (a.k.a. "early season obstacles may exist!").
Avalanche and Snowpack Conditions: For the latest avalanche advisory for this area go to www.esavalanche.org for the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center (ESAC) and click on advisory. The ESAC site is updated several times a week and more often during weather events; however, they haven't started posting yet this season. The avalanche hazard in the Tuolumne Meadows area is presently low. At the higher elevations travelers should be wary of newly formed wind slabs that are overlying softer snow. There is potential for human triggered avalanches where these wind slabs exist.
There are some interesting crust layers in the snowpack currently. These layers formed with the first few weather events of the winter. The first couple of storms to hit the central Sierra this season were warm and included rain to about 9000 feet. There is a significant ice layer at the ground as a result. There is another crust layer about 5 inches above the ground and above that the snow is soft and unconsolidated. These basal layers are not presently an avalanche hazard but if significant loading of new snow occurs, or if wind slabs develop, there may be an increase in hazard.
Wildlife: Red Crossbills greeted us along our journey in from the east. A rather ornery Red-tailed hawk squawked from a snag as the first winter skier placed tracks through otherwise pristine Tuolumne Meadows. A Belted kingfisher was still taking advantage of some open water along the Tuolume River near Parson's lodge, one of the meadow's best birding areas. Due to unconsolidated snow conditions, few mammal tracks were present or discernible. This should change with a few sunny days.
Questions: The Tuolumne Meadows Ski Hut is open! There is an ample supply of firewood and 10 bunks that are available on a first come-first served basis. There is power but there are no public phone services in Tuolumne Meadows at this time. We can be contacted via email, but we may be delayed in responding if we are on patrol. Contact the wilderness office at 209/372-0740 with any questions or concerns. Come prepared;don't count on electricity or phone service at the ski hut.
Laura and Rob Pilewski - Tuolumne Winter Rangers