Weather: February 13th through February 20th
High temperature: 53°F (February 15th)
Low temperature: 6°F (February 17th)
New snow: 1 inch
Total settled snow depth: 42 inches as of February 20th
Skiing Conditions and Weather: Presidents Day weekend saw lots of people taking advantage of the spring like weather and enjoying the skiing in the Tuolumne Meadows area. The well-worn ski track along Tioga road made for fast travel to Tuolumne Meadows from the east. There are several miles of dry pavement interspersed with snow drifts from the gate at the bottom of Lee Vining Canyon to the 9,000-foot level (near the Warren Fork). Otherwise, the Tioga Road is 100% snow covered from there west to Crane Flat in Yosemite National Park.
Above tree line, the snow surface is hard and wind effected, and below the tree line there is an array of crusts, as well as some soft wind-blown snow and recycled powder. These snow conditions are more conducive to good touring and not so good turning.
Avalanche and Snowpack Conditions: For the latest avalanche advisory for this area go to www.esavalanche.org for the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center and click on advisory. The ESAC site is updated several times a week and more often during weather events.
Overall the avalanche hazard is low in the Tuolumne Meadows area. But, wilderness travelers need to be wary of pockets of dense wind slab. These slabs are overriding faceted weak snow that lie on top of a potentially smooth sliding surface of old snow and or crust. These pockets are isolated and may be hard to trigger, but could be consequential to the unsuspecting skier. Wilderness skiers should use caution when traversing any slopes steeper than 30 degrees on hard "drum like" hollow sounding snow.
Wildlife: The winter rangers also took advantage of this dry spell and did a four-day wilderness patrol from Tuolumne Meadows to Mammoth. South of the park, the only wildlife we saw were appropriately in pairs for Valentine's Day. A pair of ravens nestled together waiting for the sun's rays to hit them one morning. As we neared San Joaquin Peak, a pair of ptarmigans attempted to camouflage with their surroundings. But, their fluffy white feathers were much cleaner than the old snow they were hiding on.
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. You can call the Tuolumne Meadows Ranger Station at 209/372-8734. If you leave a message we will get back to you the first chance we get. Power and phones are frequently out of service. Contact the wilderness office at 209/372-0740 with any questions or concerns if you are unable to reach the ranger station. Come prepared; don't count on electricity or phone service at the ski hut.
Laura and Rob Pilewski
Tuolumne Meadows Winter Rangers
Looking northeast from Donohue Pass at Donohue Peak and the Koip Crest, February 12, 2013.