New Snow: 24 inches
Settled Snow Depth: 142 inches
High temperature: 41°F (March 17)
Low temperature: 4°F (March 17)
Ski Conditions and Weather
The calendar on the wall says today is the spring equinox but it sure looks and feels like mid-winter out there. Several weather systems hit the Sierra Nevada this week adding more water to the snowpack and nudging the snow depth back above 140 inches. These warm storms have not produced the staggering snow totals that were forecast, but the high density of the new snow continues to build an impressive mass of water. The runoff has not even come close to starting and cold unsettled weather is in the forecast for the week ahead. The April 1 snow surveys that will be conducted across the Sierra Nevada over the next two weeks will tell the tale of the tape. Stay tuned.
Ski conditions are excellent. The snow is supportable for fast travel on the flats and all aspects are holding great coverage allowing for a potpourri of ski conditions depending on the weather of the day, solar versus shady aspect, and when the last snowfall fell. It is going to be a long ski season this year…
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 To elaborate, the Tioga Road grade has been replaced by steep, consequential, side hill traverses in places by the heavy snow, winds, and avalanches. 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 eastern Sierra Nevada has had an impressive avalanche cycle over the past two weeks. The persistent slab problem reared its ugly head when it reached the tipping point with the heavy snow loads of the atmospheric rivers of March. We observed the aftermath of several such avalanches above Elizabeth Lake on north aspects at around 10,000 feet. ESAC has an excellent video on their website regarding the deep persistent slab issue.
We took advantage of a spring like day to skate the supportable snow in Tuolumne Meadows. Although it felt a lot like spring, the river was still covered in deep snow with only a few glacial looking puddles peeking through. At the bridge near Parson’s Lodge, all was quiet except for the plaintive call of a juvenile Say’s Phoebe which we confirmed with our binoculars, a bad photo, and by sound. This species is more typically spotted up here in July. But it is more common in the eastern Sierra Nevada deserts and western foothills grasslands during winter. Perhaps this one was just passing through for the view.
Earlier in the week while shoveling the roof of the search and rescue cache in the rain, a couple of short-tailed weasels were getting a head start on inspecting the other buildings in the area for mice. Unfortunately, one of the two ermine’s coat was starting to brown up for spring which didn’t afford it as much camouflage as its partner in crime.
Yosemite Winter History
Winter recreation in Yosemite has a rich history. Noted author and Sierra 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.
Yosemite Valley doesn’t always have snow in winter. In fact, most years, it can be quite lean. Before Badger Pass Ski Area was built, “…the Chinquapin service station doubled as a day lodge for skiers. Ski runs were cut from Badger Pass to the lodge and down Strawberry Creek to Wawona Road” before the area became part of the park. Some of those runs “…dropped over 2,000 feet in two to three miles…, Rail Creek the site for many major downhill ski events.” (p. 39)
“The Chinquapin run is a true test for stemming, for the trail is too narrow to permit Christianas.* In the late afternoon, when the run becomes a bit iced, even professionals can thrill to the speed of its course. Its great popularity certainly had something to do with the ski hut at the end of the run where skiers gathered to meet friends over a hot drink and food.” (p. 30)
[Magic Yosemite Winters, Gene Rose. Cold Stream Press, 1999. Pgs. 39 and 30.]
*Stemming and Christianas describe different types of turns used when skiing.
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 NO electricity or 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