Update for December 20, 2023

December 20, 2023 Posted by: Laura and Rob Pilewski

New Snow: 10 inches
Settled Snow Depth: 5 inches
High temperature: 55°F (December 17)
Low temperature: 9°F (December 13)

Winter ranger pulling sled near Tioga Lake to start season on December 8, 2023.
Winter ranger pulling sled near Tioga Lake to start the season on December 8, 2023.

Ski Conditions and Weather

This is our first post of the 2024 winter season. On December 8, we were able to ski in from the Saddlebag Lake Road junction to Tuolumne Meadows on a mere one to six inches. Thankfully, it doesn’t take much snow to be able to slide down the road! It has been a dry start to the season and snow depths presently range from bare ground to twelve inches (along with remnants of the epic 2022-2023 snowpack leftover along wind loaded ridges and in shaded couloirs). The Tioga Road, drainages and meadows above 9,000 feet, and north aspects have just enough snow for some early season combat-style touring and turning, which is not meant to be an endorsement yet! However, as we write, a warm storm is impacting the central Sierra Nevada with rain and high elevation snow. Here in Tuolumne Meadows the rain changed to snow by late afternoon yesterday with big “puppy-dog kiss” style snowflakes from time to time. We are hopeful that not too much higher than this 8,600 feet elevation the snow is piling up. This storm is the “Sierra cement” that the range is known for and hopefully will make for some better “base building” for future snow sliding fun.

The Tioga Road is closed from the west at Crane Flat in Yosemite to the east at the Inyo National Forest Service gate (4.5 miles west of Lee Vining). The road within the park (Crane Flat to Tioga Pass) is managed as wilderness once it is closed for the winter and mechanized and wheeled vehicle use is prohibited. Visitors traveling by foot, skis, snowshoes, and/or split-boards are permitted with a wilderness permit (for overnight trips).

We are so happy to be back in the Range of Light! We can’t wait to experience what magic this season has in store and share it with all you Sierraophiles! Stay tuned…

Mt. Gibbs and Dana Fork on December 10, 2023.
Mt. Gibbs and Dana Fork on December 10, 2023.

Avalanche and Snowpack Conditions

Please refer to the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center (ESAC) and the Bridgeport Avalanche Center for the avalanche advisories for this part of the Sierra Nevada.

Prior to the present storm hitting the central Sierra Nevada, this autumn and early winter were characterized by light precipitation and seasonal temperatures. Our weather plot here in Tuolumne Meadows had four inches of settled snow on the snow stake and 0.84 inches of water in our precipitation gauge. These have been ideal conditions for depth hoar (faceted grains developing in the shallow snow depth due to a high temperature gradient between the ground and ambient air) to develop. This shallow snow was found primarily on north and east aspects, and there was still quite a bit of bare ground, even at the higher elevations. This incohesive and weak snow could be problematic if it persists in its faceted state and is subsequently buried beneath future storms.


Rabbit tracks in Dana Meadow on December 16, 2023.
Rabbit tracks in Dana Meadow on December 16, 2023.

Just like last year, one of the local bald eagles greeted us as we slid past the Saddlebag Lake Road. Taking a breath of fresh mountain air, we had to pinch ourselves and ask if we were here again or just dreaming. The answer became apparent, when we donned our heavy packs and pulled our sled up to Tioga Pass, unable to fly.

On our way to down to Tuolumne Meadows, bear, coyote, pine marten, long-tailed weasel, white-tailed jackrabbit, snow-shoe hare, Douglas squirrel and various other rodents (mice and voles) tracks bisected our trail. A great horned owl lulled us to sleep our first night “home.”


The Tuolumne Meadows Ski Hut is open. This primitive cabin is the campground reservation office in the summer and is located along the Tioga Road at the entrance to the campground. It is marked with a sign. 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 self-issued at the Ski Hut. For those entering from other areas, please see Yosemite’s website: https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/wildfaq.htm#winter or you may contact the wilderness office at 209/372-0740. As of this writing, there is electricity and limited phone service in Tuolumne Meadows.

Come prepared, and please make good decisions while traveling in the wilderness!

Read through the following three 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.  

Happy Winter Solstice!
Laura and Rob Pilewski - Tuolumne Meadows winter rangers

Sierra Crest sunset on December 17, 2023.
Sierra Crest sunset on December 17, 2023.

Last updated: December 20, 2023

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