Eastern Sierra Rites Of Spring – ESPN Snowboarding

Originally published May 3, 2012 on ESPN Snowboarding.com

Is the glass half empty or half full? This is the quandary California shredders have faced all winter. While the storm-track pounded Alaska and Canada, the Sierra sat high and dry, experiencing one of the worst winters in a decade — forcing folks to either stay inside and gripe about the conditions or get outside and enjoy what little snow there was.

The debate over whether it’s worth the effort to make tracks in the Sierra continues to the day. Typically, the spring snow conditions in California are some of the best in the world and especially amongst the high elevation peaks found along the Highway 395 corridor near Mammoth Mountain. Both locals and visitors alike flock to the region come spring to enjoy long days slashing the famed Cali corn snow.

On May 1, the California Department of Water Resources released the results of the final snow survey of the winter. Statewide, the estimated water content in the Sierra snowpack was measured at 40 percent of average. The Eastern Sierra was even worse off at 35 percent of average, and Mammoth Mountain resort received 263 total inches — 23 percent down from its average total of 343 inches.

On May 1, 2011 a snow survey measured statewide water content at 190 percent of normal and Mammoth Mountain had amassed a record-breaking 669 inches throughout the season. And so, with a half empty outlook on current conditions compared to last season, many Sierra snow sliders have hung up the shred sticks already and started to get greasy with the motos and the mountain bikes.

But not all of them…

For a handful of the hardcore, spring shredding in the Eastern Sierra is way too good to pass up, no matter how ephemeral the window is. The backcountry minded tend to be especially headstrong about getting after it as the access to spectacular terrain improves dramatically with the stable, consolidated snowpack and the road openings.

Toss in the fact that the trailhead camping along HWY 395 is still free, the plentiful hot springs in the region are still hot and the sun still shines more days than not and you can see why people are still running to the hills despite the abnormally dry approach hikes and unusually rock strewn descents.

Yes, the Eastern Sierra spring backcountry ski lifestyle is that good. If even in a half-full year it’s not to be missed.


Despite the meager snowpack in California this winter, avid backcountry shredders have been finding epic spring snow conditions in the high elevation cirques of the northern and central Sierra.


The high snowline in the Sierra has made backcountry access a bit harder than usual, however. If you want to shred many of the famed steep lines you’ll have to earn them hiking in and out on dirt and rocks.


For those with the gusto to deal with the long approaches, the reward has been well worth the effort. Adam Freeman rips a hard-earned line dropping off the Sierra crest above Bridgeport, CA.


Punching up to snowline with the gear to camp for a few nights has been the best solution to the tiresome approaches. The relatively warm nights and long days in the spring make for superb snow camping conditions.


Early road openings have also helped the effort to get on snow. Skier Brennan Lagasse was waiting at the Tioga Pass road gate when it cracked on April 27 and scored first tracks down ‘Chute Out’ dropping off the Dana Plateau.


Sunny skies and stable snow have also pumped up the party vibe in the Sierra backcountry. The annual Green Creek Shoot Out, a ski party organized by Tahoe skier Glen Poulsen, drew dozens to Dunderberg Peak on April 28.


Standing atop the summit of Dunderberg Peak, the Green Creek party people celebrate life…and the nearly 5000 foot long ski run that awaits them. Trip leader Poulsen has been hosting the annual backcountry party for almost 25 years.


John Morrison disperses some of the combined ashes of Kip Garre and Allison Kreutzen from the summit. Morrison dedicated the ski day to the two fallen friends who died in an avalanche while backcountry skiing in the Sierra in April 2011.


Within twenty minutes, over thirty people shredded the north couloir of Dunderberg Peak during the Green Creek outing. The prized line might see a dozen ski tracks all winter prior to the party.


Allison Lightcap sends the final crux of the party day crossing a log over Green Creek. The namesake Green Creek chute can be seen above.


Cold nights and sunny days are the key ingredients for the famed Sierra ‘corn’ snow. Brennan Lagasse harvests some choice snow kernels high above Mono Lake sliding off the 13,061 foot summit of Mt. Dana.


Come spring, north facing couloirs in the High Sierra often hold amazingly edgeable wind buff snow. Allison Lightcap slashes into a wind buff whiteroom ripping the Dana Couloir.


The consolidated and stable spring snowpack opens the door for expanding your Sierra horizons and exploring radical lines you haven’t yet skied. Brennan Lagasse found a new line to get stoked about above Ellery Lake.


Staring at a gorgeous sunset after an all-time sunny day puts the mountains John Muir dubbed the ‘Range Of Light’ in perfect perspective. Mt. Conness caught fire as the sun went down on opening day of the Tioga road.


A backcountry ski day in the Eastern Sierra would not be complete without a soak in one of the region’s many hot springs. Allison Lightcap rests easy after a long day playing in the peaks on the horizon.

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