Eastern Sierra Rites Of Spring

Seth Lightcap

Tioga Pass opened up to the gate of Yosemite on Friday and will officially open all the way through the park on Monday, May 7 -- it's earliest opening in 25 years.

Is the glass half empty or half full? This is the quandary California shredders have faced all winter. While the storm-track pounded Alaska and Canada, the Sierra sat high and dry, experiencing one of the worst winters in a decade -- forcing folks to either stay inside and gripe about the conditions or get outside and enjoy what little snow there was.

The debate over whether it's worth the effort to make tracks in the Sierra continues to the day. Typically, the spring snow conditions in California are some of the best in the world and especially amongst the high elevation peaks found along the Highway 395 corridor near Mammoth Mountain. Both locals and visitors alike flock to the region come spring to enjoy long days slashing the famed Cali corn snow.

On May 1, the California Department of Water Resources released the results of the final snow survey of the winter. Statewide, the estimated water content in the Sierra snowpack was measured at 40 percent of average. The Eastern Sierra was even worse off at 35 percent of average, and Mammoth Mountain resort received 263 total inches -- 23 percent down from its average total of 343 inches.

On May 1, 2011 a snow survey measured statewide water content at 190 percent of normal and Mammoth Mountain had amassed a record-breaking 669 inches throughout the season. And so, with a half empty outlook on current conditions compared to last season, many Sierra snow sliders have hung up the shred sticks already and started to get greasy with the motos and the mountain bikes.

But not all of them...

For a handful of the hardcore, spring shredding in the Eastern Sierra is way too good to pass up, no matter how ephemeral the window is. The backcountry minded tend to be especially headstrong about getting after it as the access to spectacular terrain improves dramatically with the stable, consolidated snowpack and the road openings.

Toss in the fact that the trailhead camping along HWY 395 is still free, the plentiful hot springs in the region are still hot and the sun still shines more days than not and you can see why people are still running to the hills despite the abnormally dry approach hikes and unusually rock strewn descents.

Yes, the Eastern Sierra spring backcountry ski lifestyle is that good. If even in a half-full year it's not to be missed.

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