New Snow: none
Settled Snow Depth: 48 inches
High temperature: 41°F (December 18)
Low temperature: -9°F (December 13)
Ski Conditions and Weather
It was a cold, dry week here in Tuolumne Meadows (week of December 11). And dare we say, it has been an uncommonly calm period in regard to the wind. Overnight lows were below zero and daytime highs hovered around forty. As we approach the winter solstice the low angle of the sun does not have as much affect on the snow surface as during other times of the year. Only the southerly aspects here at the middle elevations have gone through a melt freeze cycle and subsequently have crusted over at night.
Early season ski conditions are excellent. The common ski lexicon of “boot top powder” pretty much sums it up. The snowpack has settled nicely to a depth of about four feet here at 8,600 feet elevation. The snow surface is supportable enough that skis do not penetrate much deeper than six inches. Boot penetration, however, is much deeper and one would not want to be caught out in the Sierra Nevada now without snow travel tools like skis, split boards or snowshoes. North aspects are the current “pick of the hill” and holding the best turns. Above 11,000 feet most southwesterly slopes are wind scoured.
The light, fluffy snow has made it difficult for some critters to get around. But, pine marten, snowshoe hare, long and short tailed weasel, Douglas squirrel and even coyote have been leaving their tracks behind. Mountain chickadee, golden-crowned kinglet, Clark’s nutcracker, and hairy woodpecker have also been flitting about.
But the most impressive sight was just before the storm; a bald eagle soaring effortlessly above Lee Vining Canyon as we were weighed down by our heavy packs on our way in to start the season. Knowing that these majestic birds were once listed as Endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (in 1978) and have henceforth been federally delisted always lightens our spirits.
Avalanche and Snowpack Conditions
After the skies cleared on December 13, some natural avalanches were visible in some local northeast facing, concave bowls with the crown lines at the base of cliff and/or rock bands at around 10,000 feet. With the extreme winds and light density snow it is difficult to say how widespread the most recent avalanche cycle was. But we do know that persistent weak layers (especially depth hoar) still exist. Although, as of this writing it is becoming less of a concern. There is a reason they call it a “persistent slab problem.” Choose your path wisely.
The Tuolumne Meadows Ski Hut is open. There is firewood and 8 bunks that are available on a first-come, first-served basis. For those visiting the Tuolumne Meadows Ski Hut from the east (only) permits are available by self-registration at the ski hut itself. For those entering from other areas within Yosemite, learn more about how to obtain your wilderness permit (#3: Do I need a wilderness permit during winter?) or you may contact the wilderness office at 209/372-0740. As of this writing, there is electricity but no phone service in Tuolumne Meadows.
Come prepared, and please make good decisions while traveling in the wilderness!
Read through the following two pages before embarking on any day or overnight snow travel within this park:
You may contact us with any additional winter Tuolumne Meadows related questions but response times may vary if we are away on patrol.
We will be back with weekly posts after the new year.
Happy Winter Solstice!
Laura and Rob Pilewski - Tuolumne Meadows winter rangers