Update for February 6, 2019

February 06, 2019 Posted by: Laura and Rob Pilewski

New snow: 97 inches
Total settled snow depth: 102 inches (at 8,600 feet)
High temperature: 46°F (January 31)
Low temperature: -20°F (February 6)

Skier breaking trail through fresh deep snow in Tuolumne Meadows on February 6, 2019.
Skier breaking trail through fresh deep snow in Tuolumne Meadows on February 6, 2019.

Ski Conditions and Weather

This week saw an impressive return to winter with a series of storms that dropped a whopping 97 inches of new snow with a 6.21 inches of snow water equivalency over a five day period. The finale to this event was 38 inches of new snow in a 24 hour period, and plummeting temperatures that hit a low of minus 20 degrees last night. This intense rate of snowfall was not something we have experienced in our time as the Tuolumne Meadows winter rangers. The landscape, or “snow-scape” such as it is, in the Tuolumne Meadows area is significantly different than it was a week ago.  There is currently over 100 inches of snow blanketing this part of the Sierra Nevada with potentially more on the way this weekend. We will be digging out from this one for a while…..

As for the ever changing ski conditions, the trail breaking (is that actually skiing?) became a waist deep exercise in patience, planning, and teamwork. The low density “fluff” that fell this week resulted in sinking nearly to the bottom of the new snow when standing on skis…..and when that new snow is nearly 7 feet deep, well, you get the picture. We’re talking the ¼ mile an hour variety here folks. Needless to say that the Tuolumne Meadows rangers did not range far this week, but their shoveling and trail breaking muscles got a good workout. 

As the snow settles over time, the ski travel will improve, as will the ski conditions on the surrounding slopes…

Hooray for the water in California! 

Avalanche and Snowpack Conditions

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

Mother nature surely tested the snow stability with this one, with almost a hundred inches of snow and with over six inches of water. Today is the first day we have seen the sun so our observations have been limited. However this morning from Lembert Dome, we were able to see avalanche activity in the Tuolumne Meadows area on north facing rocky treed slopes around 9,000 feet. Some of those slides appeared to have crown lines that stepped into the old snow over ten feet deep. Wind and/or storm slab avalanches were visible as far away as the north slope of Mt. Lyell. Although we did not see as many avalanches in the alpine zone, it was obvious that the winds had ravaged these mountains during the storm and probably obliterated most evidence of slide activity.

The persistent weak layers are now deeply buried and the new snow seems well bonded and homogenous and will continue to strengthen and set up. Now the primary avalanche hazards will be driven by the wind and/or the sun (rapid warming). This is a very dynamic time period with potentially more snow on the way. Continue to monitor the daily weather and local avalanche posts.

Avalanches (show with red lines) on Johnson Peak on February 6, 2019
Avalanches (show with red lines) on Johnson Peak on February 6, 2019


The day before this series of storms hit Tuolumne Meadows, the birds and other wildlife were scurrying about as if they too were making preparations for the impending weather. One ermine (short-tailed weasel) scored big before hunkering down. But, we accidentally spooked it while it was attempting to drag a dead bushy-tailed wood rat twice its size across the snow to its burrow. Given how soft and furry the rat’s pelt looked and how many calories were probably packed inside its plump body, it was no surprise to see the weasel patiently waiting to retrieve it once the coast was clear. Within five minutes, the weasel excitedly hopped about thinking that we were gone, grabbed the rat by the scruff of its neck and claimed its prize.

General Information

The Tuolumne Meadows Ski Hut is open. There is firewood and 8 bunks that are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

There is no phone service in Tuolumne Meadows. We can be contacted regarding winter travel to Tuolumne Meadows via email, but we may be delayed in responding if we are on patrol.

For those visiting the Tuolumne Ski Hut from the east (only) permits are self-issued at the ski hut. For those entering from other areas, visit: https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/wildpermits.htm or you may contact the wilderness office at 209/372-0740.

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

Happy Skiing!
Laura and Rob Pilewski - Tuolumne Meadows Winter Rangers

26 Comments Comments icon

  1. David Massey
    March 09, 2019 at 09:33

    I am hoping to motorcycle through Tioga Road, west-to-east late May. I hope it will be open!!

  2. Rose Ann Shrum
    February 15, 2019 at 09:40

    We are planning on visiting next week, it will be our first trip there, will we be able to see much? We don't ski. just plan on some short hikes.

  3. Rose Ann Shrum
    February 15, 2019 at 09:40

    We are planning on visiting next week, it will be our first trip there, will we be able to see much? We don't ski. just plan on some short hikes.

  4. Rose Ann Shrum
    February 15, 2019 at 09:40

    We are planning on visiting next week, it will be our first trip there, will we be able to see much? We don't ski. just plan on some short hikes.

  5. Bob
    February 13, 2019 at 12:35

    This is the first time I have read your report and I found it totally interesting. Thank you so much for the work you do for all of us. A friend and I are hoping to go up Half Dome in mid-June (I went up with a niece this last September - views so beautiful), but whether we can do it or not does depend on weather, including I suppose how deep the snow pack becomes this winter. http://www.nbrhd.net/Backpacking/2018WhitneyHalfdome/2018WhitneyHalfDome.htm#Photos

  6. Thomas
    February 11, 2019 at 06:37

    Wow, wonderful pictures with this powder snow. 97 inches are 2,5 meter. Huge much. I have planed to visit Yosemite next June. I hope Tiogapass is open then. Thanks for this very interesting reports. Since years I read it during winter.

  7. Laura
    February 10, 2019 at 08:00

    Thanks Kathi, Jeff and all others who have made the Tuolumne infrastructure so much more winter friendly than in years past. Just shoveled the "command center" aka back up generator and wood shed roof off for the second time this winter. Looks like we might have to do it a few more times before springtime;) Hope you two are enjoying some sunshine!

  8. bob shattuck
    February 10, 2019 at 03:35

    Rob, Maybe this is the season, April maybe to do this, finally . . . otherwise, see in late August! Bob Shattuck

  9. Yosemite National Park
    February 09, 2019 at 09:38

    @George, Saddlebag Lake was drained last year for repairs. It's too soon to know what spring runoff will look like, but it's looking good so far.

  10. Madeleine
    February 09, 2019 at 12:44

    Sounds incredible to be in that much powder! Hope you’re in a solid building. I skied through T Mdws on wood skis in early 1980’s from Mammoth. So beautiful. We love your journal & hope to see some photos. We’ve met you in the SEKI back country in Crabtree & Rock Ck. You’re living our dream! Thanks for all you do. Tom & Madeleine

  11. George
    February 09, 2019 at 09:18

    Fantastic! Thanks for your updates! Do you think Saddlebag Lake can get fully filled this winter and have runoff into Mono Lake? That would be a tremendously good upset, considering the lake was drained last summer!

  12. Marlene
    February 09, 2019 at 08:57

    Good News! Second year following your reports and so encouraged to see all the snow.

  13. Karen
    February 08, 2019 at 05:50

    Thanks Rob and Laura! I Love these updates so much! I especially love the wildlife reports. Happy skiing!

  14. Mark
    February 07, 2019 at 11:50

    Great report! Hopefully this weather continues. Looks like it might be the most snow since 2011.

  15. Leonard
    February 07, 2019 at 10:40

    Excellent reporting.

  16. Paul
    February 07, 2019 at 09:48

    Hi Rob, I met you at nodes of Crabtree Meadow in '95 - I think. We shared some quesadillas and talked about the (then) missing ranger. I'm always happy to read your winter Tuolomne reports. Your wife was amazing back then, cresting the sierra after a day of work, to join you at Crabtree. It's good to be young, and it's good to get old and appreciate once being young. Take care.

  17. Chris
    February 07, 2019 at 06:48

    Dear Rangers, I've always wondered, how nice are your winter quarters? I hope you don't have to grab something by the scruff of its neck!

  18. Chris
    February 07, 2019 at 06:46

    Dear Rangers, I've always wondered, how nice are your winter quarters?

  19. Tom Haldorsen
    February 07, 2019 at 02:27

    Wow! Crazy how much snow has fallen in Tuolumne. Stay safe Laura and Rob. Really enjoy your posts.

  20. Annette
    February 07, 2019 at 01:09

    Thanks for your reports. We always enjoy reading them and seeing what you've seen through your photos. Stay well.

  21. Annette
    February 07, 2019 at 01:05

  22. kathi younger
    February 07, 2019 at 11:32

    Rob and Laura, Jeff and I are thinking of you, we know exactly what you are going through! Stay safe!

  23. Todd
    February 07, 2019 at 10:43

    Laura and Rob, Thank you for your commitment and reports. I'm looking forward to another visit to the high country.

  24. Lynn
    February 07, 2019 at 06:49

    Thank you to Laura and Rob for your reports - so great to hear about the snow pack! Love the pictures and wildlife reports too. Living in the East Coast, I rarely visit the high country, so I appreciate the updates! Stay safe !

  25. February 06, 2019 at 08:39

  26. Clark
    February 06, 2019 at 08:37

    Congrats to the ermine! And, well, sincere regrets to the wood rat. And definitely hooray for all of that time-release water we Calfornians depend on! And most of all, thanks to Laura and Rob for another fascinating report from the high country!

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Last updated: February 6, 2019

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