words and images by Josh Daiek
(editors note: please check out Josh’s website for more great adventure stories: JoshDaiek.com)
After what seemed to be a really short and dismal ski season, I found myself feeling a little empty and dissatisfied. As ski areas across the Sierra’s wrapped up winter operations, most people threw in the towel and called it quits, but I’m not ready to quit and surely not ready for summer!
With a thin snow pack and temps already breaching the 70 degree mark, I knew time was of the essence. So I threw on my skins and spent a week ski touring classic lines in the Tahoe backcountry. It was fun, but I needed something more, something different, something new, something adventurous! After discussing various options with buddy, Cody Townsend, we decided we needed to head south for bigger mountains and higher elevation.
With the opening of Tioga Pass in the Eastern Sierra it seemed to be a logical choice. Since neither one of us had skied or explored these parts before, I looked to my good friend Jake Dore for some beta. Jake has spent years exploring the Eastern Sierra and knew exactly the type of skiing Cody and I were looking for. He recommended a variety of lines, mostly being steep and tight couloirs. Cody and I anxiously fumbled over pages in guide books eagerly discussing the steepest lines and most efficient routes. With our busy schedules we only had one day to make it happen, so it had to count. We took the knowledge learned from Jake and various guide books and devised a game plan!
After a fairly mellow 2hr ski tour to the top of “no name” couloir off mount Dana, Cody and I peered into the chute to see what appeared to be wind slab and ice. We were both feeling a little hesitant, but figured we could ski the couloir safely and at very least have a good story to tell at the end of the day. The top of the couloir was East facing and had warmed for some nice corn skiing, and as we entered the main north facing pocket of the couloir the snow changed to pow! We were both taken by surprise and hooted and hollered like a bunch of school girls as we descended through the crux and onto the apron. Needless to say we were fired up and excited to slap on our skins and get to our next objective on the Dana Plateau.
When we reached the Plateau we were disappointed to see the how much less snow there was at this elevation. The Liberty couloir, our objective, was less than a ski length wide and would surely have been the gnarliest straight-line anyone had ever attempted. Since neither one of us felt like dying that day, we opted out on Liberty and explored other options. We spent an hour looking down different chutes and cliff lines that we would inevitably have to hike right back up if we chose to ski down. The direct sun and warming snow on these lines led to our decision to venture away from the Dana Plateau and head back toward Ellery Bowl to ski “Chute Out” a steep and narrow couloir with a tight choke at the top.
Skiing Tioga Pass was a blast. I got to ski the steepest, longest couloirs I’ve ever experienced! Now that Tioga is on my radar I can’t wait to go back on a bigger year! Till next time…