Update for January 15, 2020

January 15, 2020 Posted by: Laura and Rob Pilewski

New snow: 1 inch
Total settled snow depth: 24 inches (at 8,600 feet)
High temperature: 45°F (January 10)
Low temperature: -3°F (January 15)

Ski Conditions and Weather

It was cold and dry in the Tuolumne Meadows area this week. Although there were a few brief snow showers they only amounted to one inch of new snow over the course of the last seven days. The snow depth and coverage has changed very little since the start of the New Year. The photos in this post tell the tale of the weather this past month and what the current ski conditions are like in the alpine zone. The high winds have hammered the alpine terrain and have sculpted what snow remains. Some ridges are completely stripped but at least the talus didn’t blow away. Below tree line, where it is more sheltered from the elements, it is a different story. North aspects below 10,000 feet have approximately one foot of soft snow on top of the supportable crust from early December. This type of snow goes by many names, including our favorite “recycled powder.” Also known as TG or temperature gradient snow, it has been metamorphosed by an extended period of cold temperatures, a shallow snowpack, and little exposure to wind or sun. It makes for pretty darn good skiing too! In fact, touring conditions, in general, are quite good as trail breaking requires minimal effort and one can travel respectable distances during these short winter days.

Skier on Helen Lake on January 13, 2020.
Skier on Helen Lake on January 13, 2020.

Avalanche and Snowpack Conditions

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

Presently the avalanche hazard in the Tuolumne Meadows area is low. New snow and wind could increase the avalanche hazard significantly above tree line, if these firm surfaces became loaded with this new snow. While on patrol this week we did observe an old dense, shallow wind slab avalanche on an east aspect at 11,500 feet.  

Upper Lyell Canyon on January 13, 2020.
Upper Lyell Canyon on January 13, 2020.


We had a couple of uncommon observations during our patrols this week. In addition to all the other detritus we have seen on the snow due to the high winds, we saw porcupine scat littering the ground on a steep southwest facing hillside in Lyell Canyon. However, a more perhaps, pleasant observation later that day in upper Parker Pass Creek was the sight and sound of a pine grosbeak singing from the top of a lodgepole pine. Not only is it rare to hear a bird sing during winter, but this subspecies of bird tends to only have scattered populations in the Sierra.

General Information

The Tuolumne Meadows Ski Hut is open. There is firewood and 10 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. 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.  

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

Celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr!
Rob and Laura Pilewski - Tuolumne Meadows Winter Rangers

Mono Pass on January 13, 2020.
Mono Pass on January 13, 2020.


Last updated: January 15, 2020

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