Looking back at our turns, all we could do was grin. We had timed it perfectly! I turned down slope towards Jaime who was still admiring her handiwork. She broke the silence and exclaimed, “This might be one of the best days of the season!” I couldn’t have said it better myself. Backcountry spring skiing at Red Lake Peak was definitely worth the effort.
Backcountry corn… might be the greatest snow on Earth
Powder is fantastic to ski/snowboard, but for the Local Freshies® crew, we LOVE corn snow, especially backcountry corn. One reason is the avalanche danger reduces to a lower level. The crowds, even in the backcountry, ramp down to a more bearable amount as summer approaches. Lastly but most important to the whole adventure, the Sierra Nevadas are home to a meteorological phenomenon producing some of the best corn snow on the planet. Cold clear nights followed by warm sunny days creates the most perfect canvas to carve turns through.
Time to harvest – Backcountry spring skiing at Red Lake Peak
Over the past week, the weather in Lake Tahoe has been pleasant. Radiant temperate days followed by chilly frosty nights were the perfect recipe to transform the snowpack into pristine corn snow. It was time to harvest, but where? Echo Peak looked phenomenal from South Lake Tahoe, but the approach seemed a bit too low making us feel like we’d be trudging through muck on the way in. Instead, we chose to hit Red Lake Peak. Starting at around 7,400’, the east facing slope with only a few trees seemed perfect for us to find our corn.
As the day dawned, we slowly meander our way downstairs and peer through the window. Sipping our coffee, the sky is clear without a single cloud in sight. The thermometer outside reads 28°, a good sign that last night we had a solid re-freeze. Checking the pin-point forecast for Red Lake Peak, we get confirmation that the weather is supposed to stay fair, sunny with a high near 50°. Pulling up the Sierra Avalanche Center forecast, the reports tell us that the snow should stay good until at least noon. After a hearty breakfast, we throw our gear into our ride and bounce our way towards Red Lake Peak.
Only three cars and not a soul around
Pulling out of South Lake Tahoe, we make a left and head over Luther Pass. Driving past our normal weekday zones, there isn’t a single car in those pull-off lots. Today this isn’t our final destination so we continue onward to Kirkwood, but it’s a good sign that it will be a quiet backcountry Monday. Making the right onto Highway 88, we can see Stevens Peak and Red Lake Peak in the distance. In the morning sun, they glow like monuments in the sky. Excited for the day, we finally make it to the parking lot. Only three cars and not a soul around… just the way we like it on a backcountry mission.
Over the River and through the Woods to…
With a slight nip in the air, we laced up our boots and secured our backpacks. Crossing over the river, we emerged into an Aspen grove. Placing our planks on the ground, we ratcheted ourselves into our splitboards and shoved off. We begin to pick our way through the meadow. Over the rush of water coming from the river, we hear a *TAT* *TAT* *TAT*. Looking up, we see woodpeckers hammering away into the Aspens. It was a clear sign that spring is alive and well throughout the Sierra Nevadas.
We continue on over a gradual rollover that exposes us to the first steep section. Zigzagging our way up to the top, we begin to follow the ridge line towards the summit. With only a whisper of wind and the sun shining brightly, the snow under our feet began to soften. Following an old skin track, we wrap around a steep wall of snow until it slowly disappears to our left exposing us to a view of the Red Lake Peak summit. The entire area looks like a snowy playground! Getting comfortable with our surroundings, we register the cornices speckled across the ridge line above and half-way down towards the left side sits a huge looming cliff. Clearly noted that we will be avoiding both these zones.
The Eastern Sierras hover in the distance
From this vantage point, we decide to enjoy the fruits of our labor and take in the view. Gazing over the white covered peaks looking far past them into the distance, we see the tops of the Eastern Sierras, home to Mammoth Mountain. That may be a destination for later in the spring/summer, but today we’re focused closer to home and on our the mountain tops still wearing their mid-winter white coats while the valley sports their spring-wear of splotchy dirt and grass.
Only two words to describe it… “IT’S AWESOME!”
Snapping our splitboards together, we strap our feet into the bindings and peer down the open face. It’s a giant blank canvas glowing brightly in the mid-day sun. I look over to Jaime and give her a nod as she drops in first. Leaning into her first turn she shouts in pure joy, “IT’S AWESOME!” Turn after turn comes easily on the tree-less pitch. I drop in next, riding down the mountain together as we hoot and holler the entire way.
The person who smiles the most wins
As we come to a stop, we look back up to the turns we had just made. Today’s goal wasn’t to summit Red Lake Peak but to get outside and make a few smiles. Looking over to Jaime with a massive grin on her face, she makes one final statement. “This is my favorite spot to ride. I can’t wait to do it again and see it in the winter too!” We were safe, had an amazing day and enjoyed our vast backyard wonderland. Sounds like a job well done to me.