Total settled snow depth: 100 inches (at 8,600 feet)
High temperature: 57°F (March 17)
Low temperature: 13°F (March 21)
Ski Conditions and Weather
The weather this week was warm and dry, which turned the snowpack into ideal ski touring conditions. One can really cover the miles skiing on the firm snow surface, which has been softening up as the day warms, but staying supportable throughout. As for making turns, conditions vary greatly by clear versus cloudy skies, time of day, aspect and elevation. The corn snow has been excellent on south and east aspects between 8,000 feet and 11,000 feet. North and west aspects at these elevations, and all aspects above 11000 feet, are still mostly presenting winter surface conditions with primarily hard snow. High winds from the last couple weeks have turned the alpine zone into wind scoured and wind board slopes on most aspects. Be prepared to encounter variable conditions this time of year.
Avalanche and Snowpack Conditions
Please refer to the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center for the avalanche advisory for this part of the Sierra Nevada.
The warm temperatures and minimal new snow this week has resulted in mostly stable avalanche conditions in Tuolumne Meadows. At higher elevations where more snow has fallen, high winds may have formed shallow wind slabs on lee slopes and in isolated steep pockets. Visitors should be cautious during the heat of the day when traveling on or below slopes being warmed by the sun. Wet slides and glide avalanches are still possible on these aspects.
Visitors to Tuolumne Meadows should be aware of the slide paths that cross the Tioga Road to the east and west. Anyone entering via Lee Vining Canyon should be prepared with an ice axe and crampons and good route selection skills. The road corridor in Lee Vining Canyon still has some steep side hill sections with consequences, but is going through changes as the spring melt progresses. Several visitors reported traversing these slopes this week when the snow was soft and reported that it was “attention getting” but passable, and that it would have been unsafe to proceed if the the snow was hard.
This week two aerial predators were active. As we skied through Tuolumne Meadows, we came across an explosion of feathers in the snow which may have been one of the first western meadowlarks of the season (the early bird doesn’t always get the worm). Shortly thereafter, as we descended Cottage Dome we saw the strong characteristic wing beats and mask of the peregrine falcon, one of the fastest birds in the world.
Almost daily, a slightly less formidable bird of prey, the northern saw-whet owl, could be heard late in the evening and early in the morning hours. “…a series of low whistled toots toit toit toit…” as described in The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America.
The Tuolumne Meadows Ski Hut is open. There is firewood and 10 bunks that are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Power has been intermittent and there is NO phone service in Tuolumne Meadows this winter. We can be contacted via email, but we may be delayed in responding if we are on patrol. Contact the wilderness office at 209/372-0740 with any questions or concerns. Come prepared, and please make good decisions while travelling in the wilderness this winter.
Laura and Rob Pilewski - Tuolumne Winter Rangers