It Never Snows in Tahoe Anymore (They Said)

It Never Snows in Tahoe Anymore (They Said)

Featured image by Ryan Salm // Skier: Josh Anderson // Location: West Shore Tahoe, CA


Januburied. Snowmaggedon. Shovelfest ’17. (Okay, I made that one up, but that’s what it felt like.) Whatever you want to call it, last winter’s wrath in Tahoe was downright intense. In January alone, Squaw Valley received 270 inches on the upper mountain. Consider that for a moment: a single month of accumulation easily surpassing Keystone, Colorado’s average annual snowfall of 235 inches. From the disappearance of 70-foot cliffs to vehicles lost for an entire season in colossal snowbanks to the two guys who posted Facebook selfies while buried in an avalanche in their car along the only road between Squaw Valley and Lake Tahoe… things got a little nutty.

Reality points out that Squaw Valley’s upper mountain season total of 728 inches fell shy of the ridiculous 810 inches of 2011. However, since then, four consecutive years of brutal drought followed by an average 2015-16 winter (what is “average” anymore?) has seriously skewed Tahoe’s collective memory. As far as skiers were concerned, this hammering felt unprecedented and the region was ripe for moments of greatness. People took advantage.

Squaw Valley

This was a common occurrence last season at Squaw. Photo: Ben Arnst

Zones beyond the norm were especially alluring this past season, and the north shore brigade was hungry and eager to make up for lost time (or years) by going big.

For brief stints between storms Squaw Valley’s coveted but illegal Tram Face was in beautifully rare form, and some guy named Bill took full advantage, quietly checking off a series of spectacular and historic first descents in the pre-dawn twilight. These technical, spiny and seriously exposed lines are typically reserved for the imagination and mind-skiing, but the potentially once-in-a-lifetime conditions could not be wasted. Meanwhile, in the neighboring valley of Alpine Meadows, skiers went after the most prized lines in the Munchkins zone, M0 and M1/2, rare and burly gems with a history of mortal consequences.

Squaw Valley statistics

But perhaps the most inspiring sights were visible one day as I drove California 89 from Truckee to Tahoe City. The 15 mile corridor along the Truckee River is lined by a west facing ridge on the left that harbors a couple of decent stashes in a typical winter, but the majority of it consists of burnt out pitches of Manzanita shrubs and broad minefields of jagged boulders. But, on this particular day, tracks arched down everywhere—through unlikely pillow zones, open swaths of powder, beneath the massive jack pines and into featured gullies and burly steeps. Some places I’d only imagined skiing and some I’d never even considered. The incredible storms had erased a ton of “what-ifs” and opened a door of opportunity that we don’t know when—or if—we’ll ever get again. And it sure felt good to see concrete evidence that a whole lot of people were living carpe diemously with no intentions of letting the rarest of opportunities slide.


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