Three Big Storms, Five Metres of Snow and the Skiing is As Good As It Gets
Mountainwatch | Reggae Elliss
February’s Squaw Snow Report kicked off with a bang here in Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, with a storm the Grasshopper labelled as “Big Foot” in his Jan 30 forecast hitting the mark, dropping 1.5 to 2.4 metres across the resorts around Lake Tahoe over a four-day period. The Squaw Valley snow conditions finished up with just under two metres by the time the storm cleared on Tuesday, Feb 5.
The last week of January had been warm, almost spring-like, and the timing of this storm was perfect to improve the Squaw Valley snow conditions. The weekend turned on some classic storm skiing, but the volume of snow that fell overnight on Feb 3-4 lead to the resort being closed on Monday Feb 4 due to high avalanche danger. That left a metre of deep untracked powder when the resort opened the following day and the skiing awesome. It was the start of a great week, cold temps maintaining the dry winter snow – the groomed runs holding a cover of flawless corduroy in each morning for some fast warm-up turns, the snow off piste holding its quality all day.
This video from Snow Brains shows you exactly how good it was on Feb 5:
The break in the storms was short-lived as three days later another solid system moved down the coast out of the Pacific northwest, bringing cold air and a lot of moisture to the Sierras. In his North American forecast on Feb 7, the Grasshopper’s Squaw snow report covered it in his typically concise way: “Big Foot’s younger sibling, Little Foot, will follow in its brother’s footsteps and dump about 1-1.5m over the Cascades and Sierras this week.”
“Little Foot” ended up coming in at the top end of the Grasshopper’s forecast as the storm intensified over the weekend. By Sunday Feb 8 it had dropped 140cms in three days, Squaw Valley’s upper mountain picking up just over 116cms in 24 hours. The winds were gale force at the peak of the storm, gusting up to 140mph, which caused a lot of wind-loading on the upper mountain. That, combined with the sheer volume of snow that fell overnight saw the resort closed for digging out and avalanche mitigation last Sunday.
Then Monday dawned clear and cold. Mountain ops and ski patrol had been working hard and pretty well all lifts in Squaw and Alpine opened at 9am. I was walking to the lift line just as the first wave of “first chairers” started ripping through the powder under the KT22 chair, five of them towards the cliff band known as the Fingers.
It was amazing to watch, as three skiers and snowboarders, shredded deep, flowing turns and then launched off the cliff without hesitation, the crowd in the lift line showing it appreciation for the entertainment with a loud chorus of cheers and the hoots. It was like watching a live ski movie. Welcome to Squaw Valley.
It was a ridiculously good day, one of the world’s best ski resorts realising its full potential, many locals claiming it as the best day in a decade. It was definitely a day that I’ll remember, and it may be the best day’s skiing I’ve ever had. After that storm the mid-month total for February was 3.5 metres.
Another storm hit three days ago, and it is snowing again as I write. This one started out warm with the snow levels rising to 8500 feet on Wednesday night and heavy rain on the lower mountain before the snow levels dropped on Thursday morning. Once again, the Squaw snow report totals were big with 90 to 125cms feet by Friday morning. The Sierra Avalanche Watch had the avalanche danger at extreme and the resort was closed yesterday – 110cms of fresh pow going unridden.
While that is frustrating it is also understandable and the resort takes the safety of its staff and guests seriously. There is a huge variety of terrain across Squaw and Alpine’s combined 6000 acres, catering for all standards with the breakdown at 25% beginner, 45% intermediate and 30% advanced. However, the Squaw Valley snow conditions offer a lot of expert terrain, steep chutes, cliff bands and high-angle bowls that can and do slide under the huge amounts of snow that drop in the type of systems we’ve seen in February.
As long term local and Matchstick Productions filmer/director Scott Gaffney said in an instagram post:
“This place is unique and gnarly in so many respects. The severity of the storms and the dangerous natural topography of Squaw is a blessing and a curse.”
Once, again it turned out to be worth the wait. The Squaw snow report offered another 60cms of snow last night and a lot of digging out this morning. They managed to get lifts open on the lower mountain, including KT 22. It was deep, light with consistent snowfalls providing re-fills all day.
Looking ahead at the Squaw Snow Report
The Squaw Snow Report for the rest of the week is looking good with this current storm forecast to drop another 70cms before it moves out tomorrow night. There will be a short break with cold, clear weather before another system moves out of the north mid-week. This one is going to be weaker than the previous three storms with just a manageable 20-25cms forecast for Wednesday night into Thursday. No doubt the mountain crew and ski patrol are looking forward to a week of normal operations.
It’s going to be another great week here in Squaw as it turns on some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the world right now.