Skiing Conditions and Weather: The ski conditions and weather were quite good this week. That is, if you prefer warm, sunny, calm days and you are fortunate enough to be skiing above 9,500 feet. The ski conditions, snowpack, and weather are more indicative of mid-May than mid-February. We recorded two days over 60°F this week and the other five days were in the mid 50s. While at Cathedral Lakes today, a gaggle of geese flew by heading north! What season is this anyway? The Tioga Road is still mostly snow covered from the park boundary at Tioga Pass to Olmsted Point, although there are patches of pavement. Visitors have reported that the snowline on the east side starts at Ellery Lake and below that it is mostly dry pavement. A bicycle might be a good idea to reach snowline if approaching from the east. The snow is saturated and has gone through enough melt-freeze cycles to produce good corn snow in most places (most places where there is still snow, that is).
New snow: none
Total settled snow depth: 6 inches as of February 18, 2015 (at 8,600 feet)
High temperature: 63°F (February 12)
Low temperature: 22°F (February 16)
Snow travel is fast and fun presently, but things are changing fast. There is an obvious difference in snow depth and coverage above and below 9,500 feet.
Avalanche and Snowpack Conditions: For the avalanche advisory for this area of the Sierra Nevada go to www.esavalanche.org for the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center.
While on patrol in the Mt. Dana and Gaylor Peak areas this weekend, we observed significant whumphing on west and north aspects where the old faceted snow would collapse under the weight of the dense new snow from last week when we skied over it. This would be a big-time red flag if coverage were uniform and there were some sort of slab. However, the majority of the Tuolumne Meadows area snow had areas of bare ground or rock interspersed, providing numerous anchor points including at higher elevations.
Visitors should exercise caution if they do experience “whumphing”(collapsing) or observe any other signs of instability. There can still be pockets of unstable terrain in the alpine zone. Below 9,500 feet, the avalanche hazard is low. No avalanches have been observed.
Wildlife: The coyotes are becoming more vocal with these spring-like days. We observed tracks of pine marten, snowshoe hare, chickarees, coyotes, and many small Rodentia in the newly fallen snow this week. The honking of geese was an unusual winter sound heard in the vicinity of Cathedral Peak today.
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 no public phone service in Tuolumne Meadows this winter. 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.