LAKE TAHOE — Though this winter hasn't been characterized by plentiful powder, skiers and snowboarders are still taking trips into the region's backcountry for untracked snow.
“It's shallow, but it's better than it was,” said Sierra Avalanche Center forecaster Andy Anderson. “If you're careful and observant, you can make turns in the backcountry.”
Conditions in the mountains vary from corn snow on south-facing slopes to shady, semi-fresh powder stashes on north-facing aspects. With the low snowpack also comes varying challenges like access and obstacles that would otherwise be buried.
“I would watch out for rocks and stumps,” said Lake of the Sky Outfitters owner Peter Hussman. “(The snowpack) is just not what it was last year.”
But one benefit of a shallow snowpack is avalanche danger remains low, according to the Sierra Avalanche Center. As of Thursday, avalanche danger was at its lowest level for all elevations and aspects.
“Avalanche concerns for today are minimal,” the advisory read. “While some amount of wet surface snow will form today on SE-S-SW aspects, it is expected to remain fairly limited.”
Part-time South Lake Tahoe resident Zach Holmes went skinning around Emerald Bay Sunday. The conditions were challenging, he said.
“It was almost like spring conditions, but preseason,” Holmes said. “Route-finding on the way up, it was hard to find full coverage. On the way down, there were lots of rocks hiding just beneath the snow. It was still a good time though.”
Anderson recommended spots like Red Lake Peak, Mount Rose and Mount Tallac's southeast bowls. The best places right now are going to be where access is easy and at higher elevations, he said. But once on a mountain, a couple types of snow are available depending on what one prefers, he added.
“We're seeing very spring-like snow conditions on the southern half of the compass,” Anderson said. “On northern aspects, we've been seeing mostly breakable crusts with a small snowpack.”
Tahoe City-based Pacific Crest Snowcats is open and cats are driving groups up terrain about three days a week, said owner Dave Rintala.
“We actually have 100 percent of our snowcat terrain open,” Rintala said. “The snow is really nice and people are having a lot of fun.”
Kirkwood Mountain Resort's Expedition Kirkwood is not running snowcat tours. The access road to the two sites, Martin Point and Red Cliffs, has not been built yet, said Anjia Goulding, a spokeswoman for Expedition Kirkwood. The center is still holding backcountry awareness and avalanche classes, Goulding added.
“We need more snow before we can do cat skiing,” she said.