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No-experience backcountry skiing in the Sierra in May? Is this crazy?

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 

OK, please tell me how crazy this idea is.  The resort ski season is over, but a group of my friends is thinking of trying to do a backcountry daytrip sometime in May where we try to hike up some summit in the Sierra and then ski down.   The problem is that no one had done any real backcountry skiing (I have done it, but I was with a professional guide, so it does not count).   All of us are pretty strong resort skiers, who ski a minumum of 30 days per season at Squaw and stay away from the groomers 95% of the time, so handling the skiing part is probably not a problem.  Here are my questions:

 

1.  Is there still avalanche danger in the Sierra backcountry in, say, mid-May?   None of us has taken the avy class, so we need to make sure that the avalanche danger is minimized.  We would still rent beacons (and practice) and probes  and shovels, but I would much prefer not having to use them. 

 

2. Do you have any recommended routes that would be safe enough, easy enough and still fun to do.   We are all based in the Bay Area and in Tahoe, so something around that area would be great.

 

3. Obviously, we own a bunch of our own skis in different shapes, sizes and weights, but we do not own any true backcountry gear.  Can we rent skins and touring adapters or are we better renting touring skis?  I refuse to rent boots, as I feel that poorly fitting boots would actually compromise my safety on the descent.   Or will we be better off just carrying the skis on backpacks and hiking up instead of skinning?

 

Thanks for your advice/opinion/wisdom. 

 

 

 

post #2 of 10

Hi alexzn,

 

Spring skiing in the Sierras is where I got my start on May 16th, 1975.  My first tour was a simple but rewarding one.  If you time it right, no specialized equipment is needed and avi danger is at a minimum.  In this day & age I couldn't recommend going without some basic safety equipment, but I owned an ice axe & crampons long before I had any avi gear.

 

The key is freezing clear nights & warm clear days.  The tour up Red Lake Pk. which I've done many times since requires 2 cars. Depending on temps., get an early start just as the sun is coming up.  Leave one car as far up the Crater Lake dirt road as you can.  The road is on the west side of hwy. 88 just south of the road to Blue Lakes.  Take the other car & park in the Sno-park just over Carson pass.  You may need a parking permit to park there.  From here I've been able to walk up to the peak in tennis shoes along the ridge packing my boots & skis, but it depends how the snow has melted.  This is the route Fremont took & allegedly first spotted Lake Tahoe.  The skiing is a couple of north facing bowls directly from the 10000' summit.  The possibilities are visible from Hope valley.  Be sure to note areas that cliff out.  I would say the hike is less than 2 hours, & the skiing is pretty dependable in mid May.  If we could figure it out at 18 without many people doing that kind of stuff, I'm sure you will.  If there is fresh snow the scenario changes of course.  The worst hazard would be the possibility of slipping on frozen snow, which could have dire results (that is my disclaimer).

 

After that first taste, I was hooked.  Every tour is different, but this one is the most simple one in terms of equipment & ease of access that I've done.  Ski down toward the frozen lake & hang a right toward the dam.  Follow the road from the dam to your car & have a beer, or boot pack up, or use your imagination & find an alternate route.  I even found an old photo taken from Hope Valley in April of 1986.  My equipment could go in Rossi Smash's retro memories.  Red Lake Peak is on the left.

 

 

Others may have other recommendations & YMMV etc.

JF

 

 


Edited by 4ster - 4/24/2009 at 03:28 am GMT
post #3 of 10

My advice: Get someone who knows what they're doing and make them the mentor-in-charge of your group.  

post #4 of 10

May avalanches are rare in the morning.  If you get buried in a slop flow or pulverized by spring cornice breaking off you will not be dug out alive.  Avoid historic avy routes and cornices.

 

Go early on a clear day with a cold night and leave the beacon and probe at home.  They won't help and might give you a false sense of security.

 

Just climb up until the corn is softening and ski down.  If you are early enough hang out on top until the snow is ready. Simple!

 

Have fun, and use common sense.

post #5 of 10

Don't leave the avy gear at home! 

post #6 of 10

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by tetonpwdrjunkie View Post

Don't leave the avy gear at home! 


Probably better advice than mine.  I do wonder though, are there many (any) cases of a conventional powder type burial and rescue in mature summer snow avalanches?  The ones I've seen the trauma would finish you off real fast.  Either they are sloughs with the density of wet concrete or blocks the size of cars.
 

 

Climbing up....if you don't have touring skis, light hiking shoes with strap on crampons can work real well.

post #7 of 10

Just read this first:

http://www.telemarktalk.com/phpBB/viewtopic.php?t=8540

 

And look at this:

http://www.adventurefilmworks.com/Videos/May19.mov

Posted to Ttips from near the same location within a few days- terrifying and sobering.  

 

Just sayin'.  

post #8 of 10
Thread Starter 

Thanks to everyone why replied. Some of the links are indeed sobering.  I should investigate more before committing.  

 

post #9 of 10

If you're sinking in above the ankles while walking (just boots, no skis on), it's time to get off the slope. Stay off of snow covered rock slabs in the spring.

post #10 of 10

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Lee View Post

Just read this first:

http://www.telemarktalk.com/phpBB/viewtopic.php?t=8540

 

And look at this:

http://www.adventurefilmworks.com/Videos/May19.mov

Posted to Ttips from near the same location within a few days- terrifying and sobering.  

 

Just sayin'.  

 

Wow, Bob, I'd never seen that thread.  Before my time over on TTips.  Very, very sobering reading.

 

Thanks for that link.  There is a lot of good info there.

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