Update for January 17, 2024

January 18, 2024 Posted by: Laura and Rob Pilewski

New Snow: 19 inches
Settled Snow Depth: 21 inches
High Temperature: 44°F (January 16)
Low Temperature: - 4°F (January 11)

Storm clouds clearing on January 14, 2024.
Storm clouds clearing on January 14, 2024.

Ski Conditions and Weather

It was another wintry week here in the Central Sierra Nevada. Since the start of January, the weather has been more indicative of a continental climate which is characterized by cold and dry winter weather. The Sierra Nevada is typically warm and wet in the winter season making it a maritime climate. Don’t let the 19 inches of new snow that we recorded this week fool you into thinking that it was “wet” as we only measured 0.97 inches of snow water equivalent (SWE) in nineteen inches of snow. This low-density snow makes for the “cold smoke” ski conditions skiers dream of (think Japan and the Rockies). However, the Sierra Nevada snowpack presently remains shallow without a solid “base” making the skiing somewhat bottomless and “sharkie” (think east coast). The frequency of modest and cold storms so far this winter has resulted in an atypical Sierra Nevada snowpack.

That said, there is still some good ski conditions to be found out there. We found north aspects below tree line becoming more supportable and providing for some good skiing. Due to the avalanche hazard, we are sticking to low angle terrain and using cautious route finding. 

Hoarfrost in Tuolumne Meadows on January 16, 2024.
Hoarfrost in Tuolumne Meadows on January 16, 2024.

Avalanche and Snowpack Conditions

Please refer to the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center (ESAC) and the Bridgeport Avalanche Center for the avalanche advisories for this part of the Sierra Nevada.

Our partners at ESAC have excellent snowpack analysis on their daily forecasts, complete with videos and reports of skier triggered avalanches. No need to reinvent the wheel here…we are seeing the same hazardous snowpack in this part of Yosemite. The new loading that this unstable snowpack got this week has now put a slab on top of a complex and faceted “base” making it primed for skier triggered avalanches. It is called a “persistent” slab for good reason. Just as the weather mentioned above has been more like a continental climate, so is the resulting snowpack: shallow snowpack, cold clear nights, and wind events (think San Juan mountains of Colorado). This is not something that Sierra Nevada winter recreationalists are accustomed to, and we strongly encourage park visitors to adapt accordingly.  

History of Snow Surveys

The Mount Rose Snow Sampler is used to obtain a core by plunging it down through the snow. However, it can be difficult for even a seasoned snow surveyor to tell when they’ve struck ground when the snow is deep. “Some locations have decomposed granite for topsoil so a slight grinding can be felt when the bottom is reached…Often a dirt plug in the bottom [of the tube] will hold a loose snow core in” (Armstrong 47). But other times the only clue will be a lone pine needle or piece of grass. In big snow years like 2017, 2019, 2023 a victory dance is performed with shouts of relief whenever this happens.

Left image: Dirt Plug at Snow Flat in April 2023; Middle image: Broken weld on new snow survey tubes in 2017; Right image: Ice layer plug in 2017
Left image: Dirt Plug at Snow Flat in April 2023; Middle image: Broken weld on new snow survey tubes in 2017; Right image: Ice layer plug in 2017.

“Cutter teeth on the bottom section [of the Mt. Rose sampler] allow [one] to cut through crusty and icy layers in the snowpack … [after clamping] a driving wrench on the tube. This [wrench] has two handles, one on either side, and allows [one] to use [their] entire weight to push the Mt. Rose Sampler down through the snowpack (Armstrong 45).

April 1, 2023 snow survey. Note the depth and driver handle.
April 1, 2023 snow survey. Note the depth and driver handle.

”In theory, this is a simple task, but “…within every snowpack there are warmer and colder snow layers. As [one pushes] the sampling tube down through these layers, it can become clogged with frozen snow. Due to this phenomenon, some courses in some conditions can take hours to measure” (Armstrong 45). Plunging the tube with a reamer and/or dismantling it can be quite tedious especially when sampling multiple times per hole. In winters like 2022-2023, even this rugged metal equipment would fail at the mercy of the dense, nearly impenetrable snowpack. At least our bodies have held up so far…

Snow shoe hare tracks on ski track on January 16, 2024.
Snowshoe hare tracks on ski track on January 16, 2024.


The mammals still struggled to get around this week. Even the aptly named snowshoe hare got sick of the facets and decided to follow our ski track for nearly a mile! The chickaree (aka Douglas squirrel) has been quite creative in its travel. It climbs the highest branch or diving board it can find and proceeds to launch as far as it can so that it doesn’t have to wallow in the soft snow. Then it proceeds to the nearest buried log or rock and opts for burrowing through the sugary snow instead of swimming over top of it.


The Tuolumne Meadows Ski Hut is open. This primitive cabin is the campground reservation office in the summer and is located along the Tioga Road at the entrance to the campground. It is marked with a sign. There is firewood and 8 bunks that are available on a first-come, first-served basis. For those visiting the Tuolumne Meadows Ski Hut from the east (only) permits are self-issued at the Ski Hut. For those entering from other areas, please see Yosemite’s website: https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/wildfaq.htm#winter or you may contact the wilderness office at 209/372-0740. As of this writing, there is electricity and limited phone service in Tuolumne Meadows.

Come prepared, and please make good decisions while traveling in the wilderness!

Read through the following three pages before embarking on any day or overnight snow travel within this park: 

You may contact us with any additional winter Tuolumne Meadows related questions but response times may vary if we are away on patrol.  


Armstrong, Patrick. The Log of a Snow Survey: Skiing and working in the winter world of the Sierra Nevada. Abbott Press, 2013.

Long live Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy!
Laura and Rob Pilewski - Tuolumne Meadows winter rangers

Moraine Flat and Dog Dome on January 14, 2024.
Moraine Flat and Dog Dome on January 14, 2024.

Last updated: January 18, 2024

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