New Snow: 1 inch
Settled Snow Depth: 90 inches
High temperature: 48°F (February 20)
Low temperature: -10°F (February 16)
Ski Conditions and Weather
It was a cold and dry week here in Tuolumne Meadows. Low temperatures were below zero for five days, though the last several days have seen a bit of a warmup. The forecast for the coming week indicates that a change is in store. Unsettled weather is forecast to start Tuesday and continue through the week.
The snow surface in the alpine zone really took a beating during last weekend’s northeast wind event. Hard and textured snow exists on all aspects above tree line. The best skiing is in sheltered areas below tree line. Open slopes of south aspects at middle elevations are going through a corn cycle and there were several hours on either side of noon where the skiing was quite good. Of course, all of this is about to change with the low-pressure trough and cold front that are forecast to drop down from the Pacific northwest.
Plan accordingly for a trip to the Tuolumne Meadows Ski Hut!
In a year like this, even the most fit visitors will find it difficult to make it in from the Lee Vining Gate to Tuolumne Meadows in a day especially with a heavy pack. It is a tough balance between being prepared to bivy and traveling light and fast.
The Lee Vining approach to Yosemite remains a mountaineering experience. We recommend an ice axe and crampons in the kit as hard and steep snow will likely be encountered, if not on the way in, then on the way out. Remember snow surface conditions are variable depending on time of day, wind, aspect, and elevation. What might be a moderate boot pack or ski traverse on softer snow may turn into a fearful slide for life scenario on hard snow at another time.To elaborate, the Tioga Road grade has been replaced by steep, consequential, side hill traverses in places by the heavy snow, winds, and avalanches of January. There are countless alternative routes into Tuolumne Meadows, but they too require mountaineering skills. It is not just a “walk in the park” when snow blankets the ground.
Avalanche and Snowpack Conditions
The cold clear nights between wind events have created a rather complex upper part of the snowpack. Faceted snow can now be found sandwiched between hard slabs of wind affected snow. This snowpack structure can be found on mostly N-NE aspects near and above tree line.
The last three days have seen warm afternoon temperatures that have caused some instability on solar aspects. Here in the “domelands” of Tuolumne Meadows, there are steep and smooth granite surfaces that are prone to the “glide” of the entire snowpack downhill. When the amount of stress caused by gravity exceeds the strength of the snowpack a glide avalanche can occur. We observed one such avalanche on the steep granite slopes of White Mountain this week. We also observed some shallow wind slab avalanches on the east aspects of Tuolumne Peak which probably occurred during or immediately after the wind event.
This week’s warmer weather brought out the sights and sounds of both the black-backed and hairy woodpeckers. Like the hairy woodpeckers, the black-backed woodpeckers “drum in a regular, rolling pattern but Black-backs usually pick hollow limbs for drumming, creating a distinctive sound that carries farther then those of most other woodpeckers.” Beedy and Pandolfino, Birds of the Sierra Nevada: their natural history, status and distribution, 2013. University of California Press.
And, as if in denial of the upcoming forecast, we heard the mountain chickadee’s “cheeseburger” song. A little early, don’t you think, bud?
Yosemite Winter History
Winter recreation in Yosemite has a rich history. Noted author and Sierra Nevada historian Gene Rose has written extensively on this topic in his book Magic Yosemite Winters. Gene has graciously given us permission to reference and/or quote his book for our upcoming posts.
Well before the inception of the Tuolumne Meadows winter ranger program in 1973, there was another married couple who enjoyed working in a snowy environment and saw the potential for winter recreation in Yosemite. In 1928, Mary and Don Tresidder of the Curry Company shared the passion of sliding on snow and promoting winter sports in Yosemite Park.
Gene Rose wrote in the book, Magic Yosemite Winters: “No one was more exuberant than he [Don] gliding through the forest, yelling and whooping for sheer ecstasy, twisting between trees, dodging branches, leaping logs. Nor was anyone more sensitive to surrounding beauty than his wife [Mary], especially while ski touring.”
The Tresidders were the first to seriously promote winter sports in Yosemite National Park. How much did your ski pass cost this year?
[Magic Yosemite Winters, Gene Rose. Cold Stream Press, 1999. p 20-21.]
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/wildpermits.htm (#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.
Laura and Rob Pilewski - Tuolumne Meadows winter rangers