Chris Baus

South Tahoe Ski Conditions: Tahoe ain't Utah

There is a significant winter event moving through Tahoe this weekend. This is an old-school high moisture Sierra storm.

The storm started Friday morning and is expected to linger into next week. Yesterday morning brought some snow at lake level which quickly turned to rain, as the snow level moved to about 7000’ and stayed there all night. It is still 36 degrees in South Shore and messy, but the roads in town are clear.

I made it it up to Stagecoach @Heavenly this afternoon. The entire upper mountain was on wind hold and it was snowing at the parking lot. From what I heard, the snow was so heavy on Upper Kingsbury that snow blowers were having a difficult time moving it. 2+ feet of heavy, dense, water laden snow has fallen above 7000’.

I often hear from non-skiers, “There is snow much snow, the skiing must be great!” Well there is snow and there is SNOW. The snow that we are getting over here on the South Shore is what Tahoe skiers loving refer to as Sierra Cement. Which brings me to my point: Tahoe ain’t Utah.

Utah’s state motto is, “Greatest snow on earth.” If Tahoe had a similar motto it might be something like, “We get a lot of snow.” Sierra Cement doesn’t have much in common with the light, fluffy, blow-off-the-palm-of-your-hand stuff they get on the other side of the Great Basin. It is more similar to, well, wet cement.

Help I’ve fallen and I can’t get up

If you’ve never skied on the West Coast (our friends in the Pacific Northwest get their own variant of the ultra-dense snow) Sierra Cement can be difficult to explain. When I first arrived in Tahoe from back east, I didn’t know what to make of the stuff.

“Huge dump let’s go!” I remember my first experience at Sierra @ Tahoe and thinking, “Wow, I’ve never seen the condition of TOO MUCH snow.” There were snowboarders laying on their boards like surfers paddling into the line up and others yelling warnings from below to not head down ungroomed runs.

A couple years ago we had a huge late season storm which dumped over 3 feet and blew out quickly. It left us with a bluebird “powder” day. When the lifts started turning they whisked us over an entire mountain of untracked lines. It had been a thin year, and I was desperate to dive in. I got off the lift and headed straight into the untracked powder, weight back, board up… And I immediately fell down. And I couldn’t get up. And once I did, I fell down. And couldn’t get up. And I fell down…

Finally some other folks went on ahead and cut a trail. I eventually got to my feet, lined up with one of the cut tracks, and started straight lining down the mountain thinking, “please don’t fall, please don’t fall.”

Then, at full tilt, I came over a ridge and there was a young lady right in the middle of the track. And I fell… right on her. We became a tangled mess of skis, poles, snowboards, and gloves. A stuck mess.

What do you say in a situation like that? “Hi! Nice to meet you. Sorry we just became a ball of ski equipment entombed in snow. What do you do for a living? It seems your head is in my arm pit. Maybe if I use your pole to brace myself I could roll over.” It was bonding experience for sure.

Meanwhile her boyfriend was standing safely a few hundred feet below us in the cat track, not seeming all that happy about the situation.

Once you fall into the Cement it engulfs you. So you can’t fall. You must keep going. And if your tips dive down they will pull you in.

So that’s what we’ve got out there right now. It’s deep, but it’s wet. Keep your tips and speed up. Stay near the cut lines and don’t fall on anyone’s girlfriend.

Have fun.