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Snow, Glorious Snow! Tahoe Ski Conditions March 2012

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

Well, our thirst for snow was finally quenched in a big way this past weekend. Sugar Bowl reported a 114 inches for the storm, so there was much powder to be had. The brunt rolled in Friday night, making powder day #1 a busy one since it was Saturday. Here, a few TMS folks report on the goods:

WHO: Dave, Greyson, and Lis

WHAT: Alpine skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing and sledding

WHEN: March 17–19, 2012

WHERE: Alpine Meadows, Paige Meadows, Kings Beach, Mt. Rose

GEAR: Mountain Hardwear Effusion Jacket, Lole Sandy Jacket, Mountain Hardwear, Smith IOS Goggles, K2 Skis.


Finally the snow came back and made Tahoe feel like winter again. After a few backcountry outings on Friday and Saturday, Sunday was time to spend some time at home with my daughter and not rush off to ski so much. But, back to the skiing first. Randomly met up with Craig Dostie, author of, and we had a great hike and ski in the Mt Rose area on Saturday. It was still snowing lightly but the skiing conditions were perfect. Here are a couple of shots of Craig on the way down and then a great one that Craig shot of me (orange jacket).

On Sunday, it was time to take my daughter out sledding in this great snow, and she was a total trooper. She even carried her own sled up the luge run that we built with our neighbors. I couldn’t get any of her huge smiles from her runs down because I was too busy making sure she didn’t crash into stuff at the end!

Then, took the dog for a walk down on Kings Beach and caught these other 2 great shots. In one, you can see the snow hanging over the west side of the lake and quickly approaching Kings Beach; the other is showing just how much fun everybody was having with this new blanket of white, as these 2 guys from Europe were so happy they were skiing on the Kings Beach pier!


The temptation of a true powder day was too much to pass up, even if I was coughing and sputtering my way out of a cold on Saturday. I wasn’t the only one who rallied for new snow at Alpine Meadows, so I decided to be content with lapping cut-up-but-still-soft powder on the lower mountain, leaving the longer lift lines for the bigger chairs to everyone else.

Sherwood, the backside of the mountain hadn’t yet opened, and there was no indication of when it would, but I got a feeling late morning that I should be ready in case it did. I got into a long line for Scott chair, which puts you into position to get to the back side, and ran into Justin, our Mountain Hardwear rep. He, I and a few others started traversing toward the back. And like magic, the word came that Sherwood was opening, and the handful of us in position went into a full-on stampede, landing us on the first few of chairs up above the still-untouched slope.
The next five laps were the best of my season — fresh tracks, long, arching turns that my new K2 powder skis had been aching for all season — until the rest of civilization rushed over to join us. So one more steep line that drops from back to front through blower powder spraying up to my chest, and I was content. Back to nursing the cold, and wiping the huge grin off my face.


As for me, I got out to Alpine Meadows Saturday and Monday and had two great days, Monday by far being the best. Funny to hear Greyson’s tale of Saturday because I must have been a turn or two in front of or behind him that day. We too were hoping for Sherwood. We were lapping Scott and timed it perfectly, getting to the top of Scott right at the patroller flipped the sign. Our first two runs were beautiful! A pretty much vacant slope all to the few lucky ones. Then, on my third run, it began. Little ants covered the slope… and another run later and the Sherwood line was 10 minutes long. We pretty much called it a day after that, and I took this parting shot of Promised Land from the parking lot.

Sunday, I took the day off and went cross-country skiing with some friends and dogs. It was a winter wonderland! Light winds and a good dosage of snow made for some spectacular scenery. My Mountain Hardwear Effusion Jacket (in orange below) was perfect for the half-snow/half-sun conditions. And check out the difference between the trees on Saturday (above) and then the trees on Sunday (below).

But Monday, oh Monday! I got to Alpine around 8:45am, and spent the whole day seeking out pow with some lady friends. Our first run was a quick Roundhouse lap because the Summit line was daunting from all the waiters, and there was so much fresh that it didn’t matter. Back down to Summit (no line this time) we shot straight over to High Yellow for amazingly light untracked powder. Here’s a peek from the High Yellow hike, looking toward F tree above Sherwood.

We then hiked over to the just-opened Beaver Bowl but it was a hot mess with the sun baking the goodness out of it already. Hey, Alpine, how about opening at 8am in March?!

We spent the rest of the day hanging around High Yellow and Arts Knob, and sneaking in some mellow low angle turns around Lakeview. It was a beautiful day… so sunny! Felt like a Tahoe spring day, with Colorado powder thrown in. I topped it off with $1.50 PBRs at Crest Cafe, then some hot-tubbing. Caught this snow bunny on camera by the hot tub.

Thanks Miracle March! Tahoe snow was back! At least for a day. Yesterday’s warm temps put the Tahoe ski conditions right back where they started more or less.

Tahoe Cross-Country Skiing… well it’s about time!

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

Tahoe Cross-Country instructor and resident everything Tim Hauserman contributed this update on Tahoe’s Nordic conditions. Read on to find out about all the types of snow one can encounter on the trail.

Finally, on Monday January 23, the ski season began for cross-country ski areas in Tahoe. It had been a long, strange trip where instead of skiing in December and January local folks were hiking on dirt trails to ice skate on frozen lakes in Desolation Wilderness. They were bike riding, hiking, paddleboarding, sitting on beaches… and some of you, and you know who you are, even became famous for bikini ice skating on Tenaya Lake… bikini ice skating… sorry, I lost my train of thought. But then just before it got better, it got worse. Several inches of rain—water that should have been frozen—came pouring down one particularly depressing evening, leading more than one of us to consider hari-kari. And then finally, it snowed a foot and a half at lake level, and we were in business.

Now, 10 days later the cross-country skiing, especially the skate skiing, is quite good. With one major caveat: while the snow is good, it is pretty dang thin. Tahoe Cross-Country has been keeping the trails as good as they can be with the help of a cadre of volunteers who have been shoveling gobs of snow onto the vulnerable spots. So the skiing is good…but given the lack of a big storm in the forecast, you best get yourself out there pronto.

Speaking of snow, mountain people look at snow as a lot more than white frozen water. Here is an excerpt from my book Cross-Country Skiing in the Sierra Nevada, published by the Countryman Press, with information on how a cross-country skier looks at snow.

Know Your Snow

There is a great American myth that Eskimos have 22 or 100 or 1,000 words for snow (depending upon who is spreading the myth). While I have no idea how many words Eskimos have for snow, those in the skiing world have come up with a few choice words as well. A number of factors determine what kind of snow you will encounter when you reach the trailhead, including how cold it was when the snow came down, how long it has been since it has snowed and whether the temperature has reached above freezing during the day. Over time as snow thaws and refreezes at night it changes its consistency. After a few days of this cycle the snow tends to be frozen and hard in the morning, turning softer as the day progresses. Cold, dry snow has lots of sharp crystals which make your skis go slower. Wet snow that has frozen is very fast, while wet snow that is melted and soft is slow and sticky. At groomed ski areas, snow is affected by the grooming that is performed daily.  In the springtime, grooming machines operate in the evening, which allows the freshly groomed track to “set up” overnight. This leaves a nice, smooth and firm surface in the morning. During snowstorms, however, in order to provide groomed trails, the machines have to go out in the morning, and sometimes keep grooming throughout the day. If it is a major snowstorm, the groomers often can’t keep up with the snow and then you will be skiing in soft powder, which is great for downhillers, OK for striders, but not so good for skaters.

While I am sure there are a number of sophisticated terms scientists would use for all the different types of snow a skier in the Sierra will encounter (and a few words that cannot be repeated in front of the children for the snows of the Northeastern United States), skiers have developed their own names. Here is my list for the different types of snow a ski skater may encounter on the trail in the Sierra Nevada:

Boilerplate – This is that rock solid, hard as a rock, shiny as a piece of quartz snow. Snow might actually be a misnomer as it is actually close to ice. Boilerplate occurs early in a ski season when you a) have not had much snow yet and b) even the little snow you received was a few weeks ago, and c) it is cold. This icy snow is hard to get an edge and requires you to ski right on top of your skis. It can be pretty dangerous, especially on steep sections. The only way to avoid boilerplate is to ski later in the day when it has had a chance to soften up. Better yet, stay home and pray for snow.

Hardpack – One step towards softness from boilerplate is hardpack. While still firm and icy, you can usually get a bit of an edge and are less likely to slide off the trail into a tree. In the springtime, hardpack is often called “crusty” or “morning crust.” Skiers who like hard pack call it “fast,” as in, “yeah the conditions were fast this morning.”  Skiers who don’t like hard pack conditions, call it boilerplate.

Firm – Next in line on the firmness scale is what I call firm. For skate skiers firm is usually pretty good skiing. It is hard enough to be fast, but not so hard as to be unforgiving.

Soft and Buttery, Silk, Butter, Just Right, Awesome, Corn – The better the snow for skiing, the more names it has, and for cross-country skiing, this is as good as it gets. Not too hard, not too soft, but right in the middle and just right. Often it will be very firm, then firm, then just perfect as the day progresses. The just-right snow can also be known as butter or silk. It is fast but forgiving and will always put a smile on your face. The problem with just-right snow is that it doesn’t last long. Once the snow becomes flawless, it soon will change to soft and sticky.  Often as you are skating along in the morning you may ski over every type of snow. Hard pack under the shade of the trees, soft and buttery in some sections where the sun just hit, and soft and sticky in the areas that have been sunny all morning.

Soft and Sticky – Once the sun really hits the snow it can get very sticky. The right wax can help, but it is best to be off the trails before the snow gets sticky, as it is hard work and not much fun. The initial phase of soft and sticky snow is still pretty fast and fun to ski in, but as the hours progress the snow slowly turns into the dreaded…

Glob-Mashed Potatoes-Glue – This is the snow that really fits its names. Very soft, dirty, sticky, gluey, messy… Yeck! Best to be avoided if possible. This snow is also known as Sierra cement. As with boilerplate, it is time to pray for snow.

So when your prayers are finally answered and a big storm brings in a fresh new load of snow (also known as a major dump) it is time to experience several other types of snow:

Groomed Powder – During or right after a big storm the snow is cold and dry—beautiful but slow conditions for a Nordic skier.  If you are both a downhill and cross-country skier, this is probably the day to hit the downhill slopes, giving the snow a few days to set up on the Nordic trails. If there has been more than a foot of snow and the trails have only been groomed once or twice, you may “punch through” the snow. This means that your skating skis don’t stay on the top of the snow, but punch through several inches. Slow, slow, slow. It is a great workout, however, and if the snow is really coming down, it can be spectacularly beautiful.   Just don’t expect to set any speed records.

Firm Powder – A day or two after the powder, when the snow has been groomed at least a few times, you will find firm powder.  The downhill resorts call this Packed Powder, of course they still call it packed powder three weeks later when it has progressed to boilerplate. While firm powder is not as fast as hard pack snow, it has sped up a bit and you will no longer punch through. This is a great time to be skiing.  Especially if the trees are still laden with snow and the air is crisp and cool.

Other types of snow:

Off-piste Corn or Silk – Skate skiing is best done on groomed skating lanes at Nordic centers, except for a brief period when the off-piste (off trail) conditions set up perfectly.  If it hasn’t snowed in a few weeks, and it is freezing at night and above freezing during the day, the flat meadow off-piste areas can firm up to the point where you can ski all over the sunny, flat areas without sinking into the snow.  When the opportunity arises, be sure to take full advantage.  Some great off-piste areas to skate ski include Antone Meadows, Spooner Meadow, open areas at Kirkwood, Euer Valley, Devil’s Peak area and Big Meadow at Montecito-Sequioia.

Sun Cups – Late in the spring, after lots of warm days and cold nights without any snow, the snow surface starts to look like a giant golf ball. The sunny flats and slopes are covered with these little round dimples in the snow known as sun cups. They can be anywhere from a few inches deep to a foot or more. Skiing across a meadow full of sun cups is a rough and bouncy affair, sort of like water skiing outside the wake on a really rough day. Since sun cups occur late in the spring when much of the snow has melted they are natures way of telling you to tune up your mountain bike.

Frozen Ruts – Ruts are a springtime phenomena caused by the failure of the cross-country center to groom a trail the night before. In the spring, skiers make deep tracks in the mashed potatoes during the day, and then those ruts are all frozen in place overnight. This is perhaps my least favorite snow condition. The ruts catch your ski and are treacherous to ski over.  Nordic centers have the cure for frozen ruts: they groom the trails at night and then prohibit skiing on their trails after the grooming machines have started working in the evening. My advice for morning skiing in the spring is to only ski the trails that were groomed the night before.

Sugar – If snow has been groomed many times and the temperatures are still cold you get what is called sugar. It looks and acts like white sugar granules (except it may not improve the taste of your coffee). While skiing downhill or on the flats through the sugar is fun, if the sugar is deep and you are going uphill, it can be a struggle.

Now that you are a snow expert, you can plan your ski day:

Early Winter – If there has not been much snow yet and the days are cold, watch out for boilerplate. Ski later in the day and hope for a big dump of some freshies.

Midwinter – After a big storm, you may want to stride the first day, and then skate after that. In the middle of the storm, try to time it so that you are skiing after the grooming machine. What time of day you are skiing is less important than how long ago the grooming machine went by.

Springtime – Get out early, but not too early. You also want to make sure you enjoy that brief period of butter, but be close to home by the time it turns to glob.

Do you have a favorite type of snow, or an update on Tahoe cross-country conditions from other ski areas? Let us know in the comments.

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Salomon Nordic Glove
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Salomon Super Fast Jacket
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Tahoe Weather and Sport Report: December 2011

Monday, December 26th, 2011

Everyone’s itching for some Tahoe weather buzz since it’s been fairly dry here so far this season. But just cause the snow hasn’t flown much, doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do here. This Tahoe weather and conditions report comes from TMS staff who’ve been out enjoying the sun, ice and hard pack. For weather forecasts and predictions, visit NOAA or Tahoe Weather Discussion.

ALPINE ICE SKATING is where it’s at right now. Browse any day’s Facebook news feed from your local Tahoe friends and people are posting pics and talking about ice skating. The weather is prime for it. Bodies of water like Eagle Lake, just a short hike from Emerald Bay, Five Lakes, up off Alpine Meadows Road, and the meadow pond just west of Safeway in Kings Beach are packed with people gliding the glass.

SKIING… Grab a big group of friends and it’s all good. The firm conditions and more intimate mountains (i.e. lack of terrain) will take you back to those East Coast days (if you ever had them) where it was all about making turns with friends. Stick to the outside of the slopes for a less-slick path down.

NORDIC SKIING is not great right now. Most of the Tahoe Nordic centers are still not open but you can find short routes at Auburn Ski Club (2 K) by Boreal and Royal Gorge (15 K). No one at TMS has been out yet to scope these out, so comment on this post if you have!

HIKING is great, and TRAIL RUNNING is do-able in spots. The Rim Trail out of Tahoe City’s Fairway Road is the clearest I’ve found on the North Shore. Other trails have patches of super hard-packed snow that makes running difficult. Head even farther east into Kings Beach and Incline Village and you’re sure to find trails clear of snow and ice. I took a hike up the Eagle Falls trailhead today and made it almost to Velma Lakes. The trail was fairly icy and snowy in parts, but totally hike-able and fun. The weather is perfect for hiking!

The ROCK CLIMBING community certainly isn’t complaining about winter’s late arrival. People can finally boulder in the sun, and most Tahoe spots are clear. Star Wall at Donner Summit is seeing lots of action. Bowman Lake is a drive but good, as are South Shore spots like Phantom Spires, Sugarloaf and Woodfords.

MOUNTAIN BIKING is good at low elevation. We’ve heard Lloyds, JP’s and Animal in Truckee are still seeing riders.

Stay tuned to our blog for Tahoe weather report updates. We’ll be sure to let you know as soon as it snows!

Skiing on the 4th of July

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

Now we know we’ve done a lot about skiing on our blog and Facebook page here at Tahoe Mountain Sports this spring, but now it’s July – summer time! So without further ado, more summer skiing!

It’s no secret that Lake Tahoe got tons of snow this winter, and that Squaw Valley, Sugar Bowl, Alpine Meadows and Kirkwood were open for the 4th of July weekend.


Lake Tahoe Eye Candy

Friday, April 8th, 2011

I captured this cool panorama while at a West Shore beach today… Some crazy cloud action going on! I hear it’s snowing at the resorts, but it’s sunny as can be here. At the photo’s right is Homewood ski resort, at left is Tahoe City. Right smack in the middle of the gray is South Lake Tahoe.

First Turns of the 2010-11 Ski Season

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

With the biggest November storm to hit Tahoe in decades, everybody at the store got out and played in the deep stuff. Some of us went to the West Shore where the snow was measured in body parts… my track had us breaking snow up to our thighs, while others headed up to Mt. Rose where the top was thigh deep, but the bottom still had some rocks popping up and was a little sketchy. Black Diamond skis were definitely the tools of choice and the Black Diamond Megawatt made its earliest season debut in years. Luckily, we also had our trusty ContourHD with GPS enabled helmet cam to capture the deepness. Enjoy the photos and videos from the Lake Tahoe backcountry. And come enjoy the snow yourself — some mountains are reporting 100 inches for the week!

Spring Powder Day at Squaw 3.31.10

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

A Spring Powder Treat – Squaw 3.31.10 from Nathaniel Mildner on Vimeo.

After a taste of spring for a few weeks, mother nature has sent a little reminder of winter our way here in Tahoe.  This was unusually light snow for spring in Tahoe and the deepest I’ve skied in several years if not my entire life.  Good Times! Even though this was all shot in bounds, I carried my full kit of avalanche safety gear including my Deuter Freerider Pro Pack and Mammut Pulse Barryvox avalanche beacon. Squaw Patrol does an excellent job of avy control, but with that much fresh snow you can’t be to careful. The one piece of gear that I wish I had was a snorkel! A couple of these runs I had to stop and rest because I was literally choking on snow.

Squaw Valley Powder Day

Saturday, January 16th, 2010

This week mother nature gave us a fairly warm storm that left very little snow at lake level but a foot or so of cream cheese above 8000 feet. Although this storm looks like little more than a warm up considering the series of storms NOAA is predicting for next week, but it was an extremely fun day to be on snow. The weather was pretty variable, with the sun in and out of the clouds and snow showers periodically throughout the day. The VholdR ContourHD did a great job of adjusting to changing light conditions and got some good footage in so so light conditions. Check It Out!

Jakes Peak Pow 12.15.09

Saturday, December 19th, 2009

This past Tuesday I finally got out for a great day at Jakes Peak in the Tahoe Backcountry. The snow had stabilized and consolidated a bit leaving nice creamy powder everywhere. The snow was great, especially considering its only mid December.  It was also a day of testing out some new gear. I took out a pair of the new Black Diamond Zealots with Fritchi Freeride Plus bindings. This may be my favorite backcountry setup yet. Certainly not the lightest setup out there but it will be ready for anything and be extremely fun on the way down. The 110mm waist is wide enough to float well and the rockered tip just busts through crud and variable snow. Hero snow like this makes any ski fun, but I can’t get over how much fun these Zealots are in any conditions. Phil is also rocking his new Deuter Guide 45+ pack, a great choice for both backcountry skiing and mountaineering.

I also got to take the VholdR ContourHD 1080p out skiing for the first time. The light was a little flat but I think the footage came out great. The video below was shot by myself using the Vented Helmet mount, and by Phil using the Goggle Mount. The Vented Helmet mount is probably the sturdiest and most versatile mount for the VholdR that I have tried yet. I highly recommend it. Next time I’m going to try to point the camera down a bit more to get the tips of my skis in the shot a little more, I think it helps give the video some perspective. You can tell that the footage at the beginning of the video shot using the Vented Helmet mount is a little more steady than the footage in the second half that was taken using the Goggle Mount, but both look great.  The video features the POV skiing of myslef and Phil, with special guest appearances by Roger, Shane, Adrienne, and Bruno the Vizsla.

Backcountry Skiing in Ward Canyon 12/9/09

Friday, December 11th, 2009

Phil makes a pow turn below Grouse Rock

Phil makes a pow turn below Grouse Rock

After reading the advisories from the Sierra Avalanche Center from the last storm, we decided to give the snow a few days to settle and bond. We headed out on wednesday 12/9 for some fairly low angle powder skiing in Ward Canyon. A lot of the snow had been blown into thick windslabs, but we managed to find some protected areas with deep and light powder. I used the new Black Diamond Glidelite Mohair Mix skins for the first time and I really noticed the extra glide and appreciated the light weight compared to nylon skins. I was, as usual, wearing my Mammut Ultimate Hoody and it really excels in the typical conditions we run into in the Tahoe backcountry. Its the most breathable outer layer I have ever had, I can wear it skinning when everyone else has stripped down to base layers. Then I just zip up the vents at the top and I’m protected from wind and water by a full Gore Windstopper softshell.  Its also really lightweight (17 ounces) and packable for spring days where you just need a windproof layer for the summit.  Its a piece of gear I highly reccomend. With more storms expected in the next few days, things are just getting started.  Another great day with good friends!

Shane below Grouse Rock

Shane below Grouse Rock

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