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.
Basin Map (110k)
Pass Trail Area Map (91k)
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
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
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.