Weather: December 18 through December 25
High temp: 35 °F (December 20th)
Low temp: -14 °F (December 18th )
New Snow: 56" !
Total settled snow depth: 61" as of December 26th
Total snowfall since December 4th: 93" (the day we arrived for the season at Tuolumne).
Skiing Conditions and Weather: Wow. After last winter we were wondering if we had made a wise choice moving to the Sierra from the snowiest place in Colorado. This week was certainly testimony that this can also be a "snowy range." There were essentially two storms that hit the Tuolumne area this week and accounted for a whopping 56" of new snow. The skiing this week consisted of lots of trail breaking which made for some very slow progress as far as distance goes. Once the first big storm, which dumped 38" on the area, had a chance to settle (two days) the skiing was quite good on most aspects. The Christmas day storm was pretty cold and the low density snow which resulted has left some good powder skiing in its wake.
Avalanche and Snowpack Conditions: For the latest avalanche advisory for this area go to www.esavalanche.org for the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center and click on advisory. The ESAC site is updated several times a week and more often during weather events.
There was a pretty significant avalanche cycle that probably came at the tail end of the first storm. Numerous old avalanches were observed after the storm cleared. Most of the avalanches we observed were above timberline on North and East aspects. Our observations were limited by visibility and our location so the cycle was undoubtedly more extensive. We spoke with two park visitors who skied down the Tioga Road in Lee Vining Canyon on December 24th and they stated that they observed numerous old avalanches on all aspects. Several of these had hit the Tioga Road leaving an estimated 15' of avalanche debris on the road. The intensity of the snowfall increased on the afternoon of December 23rd, as did the wind speed, so our assumption is that most avalanches occurred late in the day on the 23rd. Most of our observations were of isolated pockets within larger avalanche paths. We have not observed signs of instability below timberline.
Wildlife: Lots of tracks in the snow this week from the usual suspects: Pine Martens, Douglas Squirrels, and Coyotes. One Long-tailed Weasel was seen swimming through the snow near the ranger station. Between storms Ravens, Mountain Chickadees and Brown Creepers would be seen among the trees. One of us had an interesting encounter with a rarely seen inhabitant of the forest. While skiing back from Telemark Dome, I saw something run across the trail ahead of me. I followed the tracks which led to a tree. As I searched in its upper branches, I suddenly observed a small dark spot appear in the sky. I was mesmerized by this small floating figure as it appeared to grow bigger and bigger as it extended its arms/"wings" more fully. Just as I thought it was going to land on my head, I locked eyes with this strange critter and watched it do a belly flop in the snow right next to me. Just as quickly as I figured what out what I had seen, a Northern Flying Squirrel, it scampered away unphased by its 75 foot vertical leap.
Questions: The Tuolumne Ski Hut is open for the season. There is an ample supply of firewood and 10 bunks that are available on a first-come, first-served basis. You can call the Tuolumne Meadows Ranger Station at (209)372-0450. If you leave a message we will get back to you the first chance we get. Power and phones are frequently out of service. Contact the Wilderness Office at (209) 372-0740 with any questions or concerns if you are unable to reach the Ranger Station. Come prepared; don't count on electricity or phone service at the ski hut.
Laura & Rob Pilewski
Tuolumne Meadows Winter Rangers