Skiing & Boarding

Backcountry Skiing

Some of the best backcountry skiing to be found anywhere is right here in the Eastern Sierra.

We are surrounded by miles and miles of National Forest. The snow pack is reliable, avalanche danger is relatively predictable, the storms are mainly of short duration, and the spring weather is warm and clear. And then there is the snow: deep winter powder and spring corn that is the finest anywhere. Corn is often called "ego snow" and during April and May the skis turn easily and slopes that once were beyond one's ability now slip easily beneath the skis.

With all these factors you would think that the backcountry would be crowded. Not so! Most days you will probably not see anyone else and first tracks are the norm. You do not even have to get up early for them either.

Lakes Basin Map (110k)
Duck Pass Trail Area Map (91k)
Devils Postpile Area Map (144k)

If your tastes run to cruising and touring, start out in the Lakes Basin. You can legally ski up Lake Mary Road using the right hand side of the road (stay off Tamarack's groomed trails or you will have to pay a trail fee). Then branch out and explore the region. Unless you choose to go up something really steep, you won't have to come down something really steep.

On the other hand, if you want really steep...check out the Sherwins. Lots of chutes and very steep stuff. A very popular area with the telemark crowd. You will often even see people dragging their downhill equipment up here. Get there by going up Lake Mary Road, staying off the groomed trails, and stay to the left following other tracks up the ridgeline onto the Sherwins. Follow the ridge as far as you want, watching for good downhill runs. There are also lots of steep skiable slopes higher up the Lakes Basin. Talk to the Tamarack ski center personal for advice, or check around town for information.

Obviously the backcountry can be a dangerous place. If you don't know what you are doing it may hurt you. The Eastern Sierra has it's share of avalanches and bad winter weather. So go prepared. Let someone know where you are going.

Short Day Tours in the Mammoth Area
The Mammoth area has enough short tours and ski descents to keep the most avid backcountry skier happy for years. Close to town are the Sherwin Bowls and these are accessed from the Lake Mary area. Follow the road up to the Mammoth Pack Station and follow the old mine road to the cliffs. A short gully leads to the ridge crest at a bit over 10,000 feet. Take yur pick of long runs leading back down into Mammoth Meadow and Snowcreek Golf Course. If you think ahead and leave a vehicle here, it makes for an easy day without too much uphill.

Above Sierra Meadows Ranch Ski Center is the wide open and steep Tele Bowl. Ski just this, or head higher into the trees and great widely-spaced tree runs.

Solitude Canyon is well named and most days see few people in this canyon. Head up above Sherwin Lake and before long you will be high in the mountains feeling miles away from anywhere.

A great day tour is to head up to Duck Pass starting from Tamarack Lodge. This is a climb of a little more then 2,000 feet and the run back down Mammoth Creek is superb. Stop in at the Lodge to end the day.

Tours a Little out of Town
So, if you have exhausted all the possibilities around Mammoth (which is unlikely) or just want a change of scenery (much more probable), the possibilities within a forty-mile radius are endless.

Heading up Glass Creek to ski the open slopes of White Wing is a local favorite. Park on Highway 395 just past Deadman's Summit at the pullout for the USFS set trail. From here just follow the trail and curve up Glass Creek to White Wing. Or head south to Rock Creek Canyon. The road is always plowed to the East Fork Parking Lot. This is a California SnoPark site and your parking fee will help to keep the road open during the winter. Rock Creek Lodge grooms the road to Mosquito Flats and above this the valley climbs slowly towards Bear Creek Spire and Morgan Pass. This canyon is one of the most gentle on the east side and a great place to be introduced to the backcountry.

For something a little different, try the Mono Craters. Take Highway 120 out past the South Tufa area and park where you can. (The road is cleared only periodically). The north and east slopes of the craters can hold great powder and the widely spaced jeffery pines give wonderful cruising terrain.

Long Tours
The Eastern Sierra has some of the finest extended tours in the world. A ski across the range has great aesthetic appeal, but often getting back can be a problem. So, often it is a better idea to ski along the range and come out on the same side of the mountains as your vehicle.

For an easy three-day tour, try skiing from Mammoth Mountain to June Lake with its incredible views of the Minarets and the Ritter Range.

For the serious skier, the tour from Rock Creek to Mammoth is a must. Challenging skiing over about five days and wild mountain scenery.

The big Sierra tour is the Sierra High Route from Independence to Wolverton in Sequoia Kings National Park. Check out articles in Powder Magazine and Couloir for more information. Fifty miles of skiing along a line that stays above 10,000 feet for most of its path. If this were in Europe, there would be huts every step of the way and hundreds of skiers each day. But here it is wilderness and few skiers.

The winter environment can often be an intimidating place, but the company of a professional guide can make it a safe and enjoyable experience. If you are not sure of your ability to travel safely in the backcountry, the local experts are Sierra Mountain Guides. They offer a wide range of trips catering to skiers of all ability levels and experience. Group size is limited with a high guide-to-participant ratio, ensuring personal attention and safety.

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