(editor’s note: Check out Zeb’s guide company blog and website for more details, especially if you’re interested in skiing Portillo, Chile or Antarctica or anywhere really: Alpine Mountain Works)
Is today going to be skiing, climbing, biking, hiking, or even swimming? Right now folks living in Norcal are faced with a lot of choices. Duncan Sisson, Mattias Sullivan and I couldn’t narrow it down so we threw all the gear we could find and headed north to Mount Lassen, the southernmost peak of the Cascade range. With bikes, skis and camping gear we just had room to cram in a mini-Weber grill and cooler.
The first stop of the weekend was the Devastated Area on Lassen’s north side. This was no amateur operation: within minutes of parking the truck we were enjoying a grill full of burgers & corn on the cob with a stunning view of Lassen’s north face as our backdrop. We settled in for the night with ski lines on our minds.
North face of Lassen on the approach. Photo: Zeb Blais.
We got up to a frosty morning [May 18th], but by the time we were walking it was warm enough to hike in a short sleeve T-shirt. 4,000 feet of smooth snow lay between us and the top. A leisurely 40 minutes of walking over dirt took us to snow consistent enough to skin. The smooth snow we were excited to ski turned out to be pretty good for skinning. Despite a few greasy sections with new windblown snow sliding on an old melt freeze crust we were able to skin to the summit plateau.
Doin work. Zeb Blais & Duncan Sisson walkin’ in dirt toward skinnable snow. Photo: Mattias Sullivan.
As we climbed, a group of skiers began their descent and showed us just how unstable the snowpack was. Making his first turn off the top, the first skier started a large, fast running wet avalanche that roared past us in the adjacent gully. It wasn’t big enough to bury a person, but it had enough mass and speed to wreck your day! The new snow from the previous few days was warm from sun and midday temps and hadn’t bonded well to the snowpack. We continued carefully, choosing our route and individual ski tracks with caution.
Zeb Blais skinning to win. Getting to the top. Photo: Mattias Sullivan.
The last 100 vertical feet was an easy boot pack of talus, gravel and snow. A quick bite on top, a few photos, and it was time to reap the reward of the climb: the ski descent! We descended the main gulley, knowing the bed surface left by the wet slides would be the best skiing we would find. Being sure that the route was clear of climbers, we ski cut the warm, fresh snow releasing some fast avalanches that ran over 2,000 vertical feet. Exciting skiing to be sure!
Zeb on the summit plateau with the summit in the background. Photo: Mattias Sullivan.
The bed surface left behind by the slides was perfect spring snow: fast, supportable and smooth! We ripped GS turns down to the lower angle slopes above the apron. Here the new snow stayed put and we put in a set of fun hot pow tracks. The snow stayed fast and fun for a few more turns then got a bit sticky. In the apron it went back to gliding well and we pieced the snow patches together to get back to the dirt we walked in on.
Mattias, Duncan and Zeb getting a look at the goods from the top. Photo: Mattias Sullivan.
We got back to the parking lot psyched to have skied some great turns and to be safely off the avalanche prone slope. We celebrated with a beer while our gear dried and before we knew it were off to Graeagle with mountain biking on our minds.
(stay tuned for Zeb’s next blog about mountain biking in NorCal’s Graeagle)
Not Mattias’s first day on skis. Taking advantage of buttery bed surface. Photo: Zeb Blais.
Avvy debris and hot pow turns. Photo: Zeb Blais.