Solid base: 1st snowfall may have set a strong backcountry base where snow remains

Elizabeth White
Sierra Sun
An October snowstorm allows for backcountry users to get their first tracks of the season.
Isaac Laredo

The first layer of snow fell during the storm of Oct. 24-25.

Six to 40 inches of snow fell across various areas of the Truckee/Tahoe region, according to the Sierra Avalanche Center, causing some resorts to open early for the season. Although the snow was helpful for the early opening of resorts, there was still speculation as to what this storm would mean for the future of backcountry conditions this winter.

On Oct. 26 there were reports received by the avalanche center of several wind slab avalanches. These avalanches are caused by wind that transports and deposits snow from one side to another. One of these avalanches occurred in Carson Pass at Steven’s Peak. The avalanche was on the northeast aspect, around 8,500 feet near the tree line. With temperatures warming up this week and last, the conditions have created some loose and wet snow.

Additional observations were conducted later by the avalanche center’s forecasters. It was determined that there would be no initial problems in the snowpack, and that it also has potential for a strong base for future backcountry conditions.

“It looks like it’s giving us a bit of a base to work with at this point,” said Brandon Schwartz, head forecaster at the Sierra Avalanche Center. “Conditions have been warmer, we’ve seen good consolidation of snowpack around 50% or so in places … from what we have seen we’re not seeing any indications of initial problems forming in that snowpack.”

Schwartz stated that as the snowpack continues to build and become deeper, there will be some question about whether faceting — grainy and weak layers in the snow — develop over time. Schwartz estimated that there will likely be some rain or snow with these upcoming storms — further solidifying the snow.

He also believes there is a chance that the snow could melt completely on some aspects.

“I think that this time of year we’re getting to a point where what’s on northern aspects is going to hold,” Schwartz added. “Certainly we could see some of our southern aspects, and maybe some of the east aspects or early wind scoured west aspects — those could certainly melt out substantially.”

According to Schwartz, the backcountry saw a huge increase in use last year when the ski resorts closed.

Schwartz said there are a several ways for newcomers to become educated in backcountry safety this winter. They can get the proper training, usually through an AIARE course. They can also attend avalanche workshops to refresh or build on that foundation.

When going into the winter backcountry, it is always important to carry a beacon, shovel, and probe and check the daily avalanche forecast by going to or checking the Sierra Avalanche Center’s observations, incidents, and forecasts, which are expected to be in full swing by mid-month, depending on snowfall conditions.

Those who would like to contribute to the Sierra Avalanche Center can go to

Elizabeth White is a staff writer with the Sierra Sun, a sister publication of the Tribune. She can be reached at

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