New Snow: 133 inches (since 2/21/23)
Settled Snow Depth: 136 inches
High temperature: 39°F (March 3)
Low temperature: -5°F (March 6)
February Weather Summary
New Snow: 99 inches (historical average 61.2 inches)
Snow Water Equivalent: 6.07 inches (historical average 4.53 inches)
Average High Temperature: 34.7°F (historical average 40.2°F)
Average Low Temperature: 7.6°F (historical average 10.3°F)
Average Temperature: 21.15°F (historical average 25.2°F)
Ski Conditions and Weather
The above February weather data pretty much sums up the last two weeks in Tuolumne Meadows: it has been colder and wetter than “normal.” As always, we are happy to be able to report this as we are major fans of the winter season and the weather that it can bring. Of course, it is not lost on us that the weather that has hit California over the course of this winter has caused hardships and inconveniences. We hope that folks are staying healthy and adapting out there.The March 1 snow surveys were completed between February 22 and March 3. It was more of an adventure this go round as it snowed 109 inches during this ten-day window. Not only does the newly fallen, unconsolidated snow make the trail breaking to the courses a challenge but probing the deep snowpack that consists of multiple icy layers with a Mt. Rose sampling tube can be difficult to near impossible as well. In order to complete the Dana Meadow course, for example, we had to break trail half of the six miles the first day, and then finish breaking trail and do the snow sampling the second day. To add insult to injury, these two full days of work for two people were erased like an Etch-A-Sketch in a matter of hours by the next storm that started as we made our way back to Tuolumne Meadows on our skin track. Mother Nature always bats last!!
The most recent storm exited the area last night and it will take a few days before the ski conditions settle. The snow that has fallen over the past two weeks was very low density, averaging about 5% water content. As the days get longer and warmer this time of year “winter” ski conditions can quickly change to “spring” in a very short time. One day the meadows have soft powdery snow, the next day we are breaking through plates of icy glass (melt freeze crust)!
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 ConditionsPlease refer to the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center (ESAC) and the Bridgeport Avalanche Center for the avalanche advisories for this part of the Sierra Nevada.
With the cold, low density snow that fell in Tuolumne Meadows recently, the primary avalanche activity we saw was sluffing and a few small wind slab avalanches. However, an AR (Atmospheric River) is in the forecast with possible rain on snow at mid and lower elevations. Avalanche conditions will remain quite dynamic. Access to trailheads both east and west of Yosemite may be impacted.
The real wildlife biologist (guess which one of us that is) is letting this “nature faker” take a go at the wildlife section this week. Not surprisingly, I am going to personify my observations and relate them to skiing. (Just like a ski obsessed Neanderthal is apt to do!) As we patrolled far and wide during snow surveys last week, it seemed that our little pals the red crossbills were around every corner. Of course, there is no way of knowing if it was the same flock (probably not, but it makes for a better story). The morning that we skied to Dana Meadow was a perfect Sunday in the park. Sunlight glistened on newly fallen snow and the in-between storms air was crisp and calm. It was slow and arduous travel for sure. As if in a cartoon, we hear the unmistakable “gyp-gyp-gyp” calls of our crossbilled friends as they alighted in a lodgepole pine near our skin track (Their bills are “crossed” to allow for better access to the lodgepole pinecones and the seeds they contain that make up their diet). As if to say, “what are you doing wallowing in that deep snow on flat ground when you can be doing this,” the flock flitted from one branch to the next and the sparkly powder cascaded through the air and down on one another. Birdie face shots! I chuckled over that one for a while…. until it reminded me of how good the skiing must be. But alas work called and I had to catch up to the real scientist who is also a mad trail breaker and who was well ahead of me. She is really something!
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.“
In the fall of 1928, Tresidder formed the Yosemite Winter Club to ‘encourage and develop all forms of winter sports [and] to advertise and exploit the great advantages, beauties and healthy benefits of winter in the California Sierra to all lovers of outdoor life.’ In its seventy [plus]-year span to the present day, the club has played a leading role in the evolution of winter sports in California.”
[Magic Yosemite Winters, Gene Rose. Cold Stream Press, 1999. p 20.]
In fact, the winter rangers have had the pleasure of meeting many of its modern-day members as they have passed through Tuolumne Meadows on their Trans-Sierra outings. When they’re not skiing, they’re busy enjoying each other’s company, telling stories of old and sharing their spirit of skiing with the club’s younger members.
Although the park is currently closed, the Tuolumne Meadows Ski Hut is open for the season. 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