Backcountry Skiing in the Golden State: The Waiting Game
What do you do when you’re writing a backcountry skiing guidebook and there’s no snow? Go to Canada
WORDS: Jeremy Benson
Based out of Lake Tahoe, California, Jeremy Benson has worked as a busser, landscaper, ski tech, bartender, waiter, and freelance writer to facilitate his skiing addiction. He is currently working on a backcountry skiing guidebook to the state of California for Mountaineers Books, and waiting for it to snow…
It turns out that Tom Petty was right all along, the waiting is, in fact, the hardest part. The lyrics of his hit song, The Waiting, have never resonated with me like they have so far this season. If you live in California, or anywhere in the Far West for that matter, then you know what I’m talking about. After back-to-back below average winters (2013 was the driest year on record for California—painful), I figured we were due for a big one, but so far we’re still waiting.
It gets worse. This year I have a vested interest in winter actually producing. I’m supposed to write a backcountry skiing guidebook for California, outlining 100 of the state’s best routes. I’d planned to spend the majority of my winter “researching,” as in revisiting favorite lines and discovering new zones and terrain for my route descriptions and photographs. So, come November I started waiting, hoping for that early-season dump to get us into the mountains on our skis.
November passed, then December, with little more than 20 inches of blower on top of virtually nothing. For the past five weeks we’ve seen high pressure anchored firmly off the West Coast, our temps hovering in the mid 40s with sunny skies. South faces are completely bare, and north-facing terrain holds some sugary snow that barely hides a myriad of season-ending surprises and will eventually become a persistent weak layer.
So far this season, linking five turns in a row without hitting a rock has been cause to celebrate. Sugar Bowl’s new “Uphill Pass” has been the highlight, enabling us to get out and hike without feeling like you might end your season at any moment. Never mind the backcountry, our resorts have struggled as well, with chair openings delayed due to “rock removal” on the runs—seriously.
Soul-crushing would be a good way to describe our lack of snow, the kind of drought that makes you question the sacrifices you’ve made to be a ski-bum and live where you live. Social media doesn’t help, the bitter taste of FOMO in my mouth after every powder pic on Instagram or Facebook from Montana, Jackson, Southwest Colorado, even Vermont. Sorry if I didn’t “like” your photo, but I was too busy wallowing in my own self pity. Try as we might, but apparently no number of hopeful “pleasesnowsoon” and “moresnowplease” hashtags or washing of cars can seem to reverse this problem. Weather forecasters continue to take shots in the dark at storms that might be “two weeks out” but strangely never materialize.
Sadly, it seems like hitting the road is the only option for us to get a taste of real winter. A few weeks ago, with the help of our persistent discouraging long-term forecast, I decided enough was enough. After a quick e-mail exchange with Larry Dolecki, the owner of Icefall Lodge near Golden, B.C., I secured four spots in powder-skiing paradise. After New Years, we packed up the van and drove straight to the Great White North, where the snow is plentiful and the weather is cold—as it should be in January.
We haven’t looked back, and definitely haven’t checked the forecast, but despite the distraction of faceshots and an endless supply of glorious powder turns this week, I’m hopeful there’s a major change in the weather coming for Tahoe. Sure it’s great to ski pow on the road, but there’s no place like home, and I’ve got a book to write, dammit!
Add a comment