Only thirty hours ago I was standing in an over grown city in the tropics with cars honking incessantly, congestion, pollution and filth. Every breath was difficult…the air pollution was visible. Luckily, I awoke from my nightmare. Through the loud speakers on the plane the captain can be heard saying, “We are making our final descent into Reno-Tahoe International Airport.” Yes! I made it home. Looking out the plane the Sierra Nevada’s are covered in dark clouds. Coming from 105 degrees with humidity, I hoped they meant it was dumping the “white gold” I had missed so much. Plus, it would be an epic way to close out an amazing season at Heavenly Ski Resort.
The clouds loom over the mountains
After landing at the airport I grabbed my gear and slung it into the Forerunner. In Reno, the weather was calm and peaceful. The sun was even shining. Driving southward on US-395 the sun begins to disappear and light mist starts to hit the windshield. I heard it was snowing in South Lake Tahoe, but hadn’t received solid confirmation. Making the final turn onto US-50 towards Spooner, we climb into the mountains. Nearing the summit the weather changes quickly and it begins to snow heavily. Banks of snow form on the side of the road as we drive towards South Lake Tahoe. Like a dream the snow continues to fall as we arrive in town. Not only was it steady, it was snowing even heavier. The forecast stated only two to three inches at lake level, but on arrival there was already more snow than that. Is this really happening? Could tomorrow really be a powder day this late in April? We won’t know for sure until morning.
Closing Day is a Powder Day!
We woke up to a blessing! Blue bird skies and a blanket of fresh snow. Quickly checking the snow report Heavenly is says fourteen inches of fresh snow! Talk about finishing strong! Today was definitely going to be a great way to close out. After breakfast we jumped into the car and head to California Lodge. Arriving at the base of Gun Barrel, we are surprised to see only a few people around. Pulling up to the parking lot attendant we come to realize that the lodge was closed for the season. Quickly we head over to the Gondola near Harrah’s. Walking up to the lift we are greeted with smiling faces. Decks are tossed onto the side of the gondola cabin and we head upwards. The surrounding peaks hold onto winter with a fresh new coat of snow. Even the valley has snow due to last night’s storm.
Fresh snow and sunshine – a perfect mix
Finally, we reached the summit station and head over to the Tamarack chair. Reading the signs, it said Sky Express was closed for the season so it was off to Big Dipper and Comet chairs. With time ticking until the snow turns to mashed potatoes we start with the east facing slopes slashing through the fresh powder. As the snow transforms into the classic Sierra Cement we transition to the north facing slopes. The vibe on the mountain was great as everyone tried to get in one last epic pow run before the lifts stop running. Saturday was epic!
Finding the Powder
Sunday…with only three lifts running by around 10:30 on the day before, the powder had been consumed and tracked out. We weren’t ready to call it a season yet. We knew we needed to hit Heavenly on closing day. Instead of traditional, we decided it was time to put in a little work. We remembered that Sky Express was closed for the season. Now what? We decided to bring our backcountry gear! It was time to make evasive action and get the goods. We quickly checked the Sierra Avalanche Center’s forecast, but it was already closed for the season. We then read the Eastern Avalanche Center post just get a quick idea. Hillmap.com helped us select our route. Starting our hike from the top of Big Dipper the bootpack was well trodden up to Milky Way Bowl.
The Path Less Traveled
As we continued up the trail we ended at the summit of Sky Express. It was eerie how serene and quiet the mountain was. Typically this would be a bustling place filled with dozen of skiers and snowboarders. Today, not a single individual had even gotten this far. We enjoyed the peace for a moment looking over Lake Tahoe.
Leisurely we strapped in and dropped into the deep powder. Starting out the snow already had a thin crust. Leisurely, we broke through to the goods below until we arrived at our chosen run, High Five. Standing at the top we look at the entire run. It was completely untracked.
Our analysis came correct as the run was north facing and contained actual feathery powder. We make HUGE carves in the fourteen inches of fresh snow grinning from ear to ear. At the base of Sky Chair we look up at our handiwork and know now that it’s our job to split board out. Grabbing a couple of pretzels out our packs we suddenly hear glass breaking. What was that?!? With not a single person around the only thing we can think of is that a bear decided to make his presence known. It was time to start heading before we get to meet him face to face.
Pay to Play… Backcountry Style
Following the California Trail up we made quick work of the cat track. In the distance Mount Tallac looking especially beautiful. The chutes are still filled in nicely and waiting to be attacked. Today, our mission was a simple one…enjoy Heavenly on our own terms before the ski season comes to a close. Stride after stride we climb towards our final destination. Pulling up to the Gondola summit station seeing the crowds whisking by we feel at peace with nature. Unbeknownst to them we had an adventure no one else had that day. Is this our final day snowboarding? The answer is no! It is only the beginning of our spring missions. Stay tuned as we explore Mt. Bachelor, Mammoth Mountain and of course the backcountry.