New Snow: none
Settled Snow Depth: 43 inches
High Temperature: 49°F (January 30)
Low Temperature: 0°F (January 26)
January Weather Summary
New Snow: Trace (Historical Average: 60.7 inches)
Snow Water Equivalent: 0.03” (Historical Average: 5.05 inches)
High Temperature: 43.6° (Historical Average: 40.2°)
Low Temperature: 7.8° (Historical Average: 10.0°)
Average Temperature: 25.7° (Historical Average: 25.4°)
Ski Conditions and Weather
While compiling the January weather data yesterday we were struck by how easy it was to add up the precipitation column, no calculator needed. One lone entry on January 8 told the tale of a record dry month at our weather plot here in Tuolumne Meadows. Only a trace of snow and a barely measurable 0.03 inches of water equivalent fell on that day. The good news is that the heavy snows of December have left a central Sierra Nevada snowpack that is still 92% of “normal” for February 1. This percent of normal number is derived from the February 1 snow surveys, and the automated snow sensors that are scattered throughout the state. Obviously, this number will continue to shrink if the dry spell continues into the rest of winter.
Ski conditions have remained fairly static over the past three weeks. The high alpine snow surface is wind hardened and textured. There is some carvable wind board out there that is reminiscent of the human made snow of the Adirondacks. The “pointy” equipment is strongly encouraged to have in the kit if venturing on to steep and committing alpine terrain.There are still some powder stashes to be had on sheltered north aspects. South aspects are starting to corn up on open slopes below 10,000 feet but with the cooler temperatures are on hold for now.
Avalanche and Snowpack Conditions
Please refer to the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center (ESAC) for the avalanche advisory for this part of the Sierra Nevada.
The avalanche hazard is presently low, but beware of ice, loose wet snow and/or rockfall when the sun hits those solar aspects especially if the temperatures increase. Snowline on the eastside is approximately 9,000’ and the steep snow near the Green Bridge is no longer an exposed traverse.
Snow Travel Tip
There are so many cool inventions out there, but our second favorite is the climbing skin. Perhaps equally as ancient as the boards themselves (+/- 6,000 BCE), various Arctic inhabitants attached seal skins to the base of skis to gain traction on the snow. Some cultures had one short ski used for “kicking” with a skin and one long ski without for gliding.
The modern version of climbing skins is typically made of either nylon, mohair (Angora goat hair) or a blend. Nylon is more durable, offers more traction in icier conditions but is heavier. Mohair glides better, works well in powder, is lighter but usually pricier. These skins have a reusable adhesive on one side that sticks to the base of the ski and attaches to the tip and tail. The other side of the skin has soft fiber-like fur. The hair feels smooth as your hand glides over it one way. But, if you change directions the resistance you feel against the grain, is what allows the fur or hair to grip or stick to the snow. You attach skins for the uphill climb. You “peel and squeal” for the descent.
In the field, especially on cold days, it is good to store your skins in a warm place like your jacket. Otherwise, when you deploy them, they may not stick as well to your skis. Conversely, when it’s warm out, applying skin wax can be crucial to keep them from retaining water and glopping up. When drying out skins in the noonday sun after a climb or at the end of the day, it is best to take them off of your skis otherwise the glue may be left behind on your bases. Fold them up and use a mesh skin saver at the end of the day. Out of doors, this simple task can prove difficult on a windy day. Ask your friend to grab the middle of the skin while you grab the tip and tail to fold it or shove your ski tail in the snow, peel it halfway off, pinch the middle and peel off the rest. Voila! Now you can feel pretty good about your non-fossil fuel powered climb and the turns down the hill will feel all that much more gratifying!
“One of the earliest nesting birds of the Sierra” the great horned owl was heard this week in Tuolumne Meadows. Some birds may lay their eggs as early as January. At Tioga Pass, we also heard a couple of hairy woodpeckers chattering among the white bark pine snags. They aren’t known to stray far from their nesting habitat in winter or breed this early, but with the calm, sunny weather, they appeared to be more vocal (Beedy & Pandolfino, Birds of the Sierra Nevada, Univ. of CA Press, 2013).
The wilderness is open! But, especially during this pandemic where local resources may be limited, we implore you to be self-sufficient and not put others at risk. Please #RecreateResponsibly by planning and preparing thoroughly for your outdoor activities in the park.
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.
Laura and Rob Pilewski - Tuolumne Meadows winter rangers