Epic days in Squaw Valley

 

I’ve been tracking storms all winter long hoping to make it out to Squaw Valley in Tahoe, but every storm that came through was also hitting Jackson, so it was too hard to leave. With a mellow March in Jackson and not much in the forecast, i finally pulled the trigger and headed out to Squaw. The forecast for 3 days was up to 4 feet and then sunny for the weekend. So I called my good buddy Miles Clark who lives in Tahoe and he said to come on out.

The next day I jumped on a plane and made my way west. The first night we were supposed to get 4-8” but unfortunately woke up to rain on the roof. Miles and I decided to ski in the rain and took a few laps anyway. We got a few fun lower mountain laps in until they shut down everything because of lightning. The temps started to drop that evening and the rain turned to snow around  5pm with huge flakes coming down in town. In just a couple of hours there was 4” on the railing and we were stoked! Miles suggested we get in line at 7 the next morning for first chair, which is quite a bit earlier than I normally like to wake up, but I knew it would be worth it.

We woke up the next morning to 10” of new snow and rushed to get in line, coffee in hand. As we lined up at KT22 chair, the sun was just coming up and the clouds had cleared showing an untouched zone called the fingers. I’ve always wanted to ski them, and everyone started picking out the lines they wanted to ski from the base of the chair.  

 Just after 9am they opened the lift and we were on 4th chair. The powder frenzy was in full force as everyone rushed down the mountain to get to their line first. I followed the mass of people down trying to find the way into my line, but got lost on the way, and ended up skiing a mellower but still fun line called Engerbretsons’. What I really wanted to ski was the middle finger, a spine of snow that reached down the cliffs with an air out the bottom, so I jumped back in line and luckily skied right into it this time.

After the 2 runs, everything was getting pretty tracked out so I met up with Miles and another friend Nate and we started hitting other cliffs. Having skied two of the lines in the fingers and lots of cliffs, we were already more than happy with our day so anything more was just a bonus! We celebrated with beers and high fives at the base and got ready for another epic day tomorrow. We got word that the coveted Silverado lift, which only opens a couple times a year would be opening the next day and the popular cliff hucking area at the top of the mountain called the Palisades.

The next morning we got up early again to try and get first tram to the top of Silverado. It was a beautiful bluebird day and as we passed over the area, we could tell it was going to be amazing. I had never skied this area so I was just following Miles and Nate down. I knew they had the same idea of what to ski so i knew if they would find the best stuff. I followed them off of a number of 25-30’ cliffs and we even all went and threw backflips off the famous tram building roof. It was another epic morning send, but we weren’t done yet. We hiked up Granite Chief and a big group of us sessioned the cliffs throwing backflip and front flips off every direction. It was an amazing cliff session to be a part of. Miles told me that it was one of the best cliff hucking sessions he has had in a while because most the cliffs we hit never fill in with enough snow.  

After a sendy morning, I looked over at the Palisades and saw that they were already  tracked out. The rest of the group was feeling pretty content with a successful day, but I wasn’t done yet. I asked if anyone wanted to hike up the Palisades and hit it but they all declined, so I went by myself. I watched one other kid air the center of the chute, and it looked pretty soft. Where i wanted to air in looked pretty bumped out but still soft enough so I decided to go for it.

I ran into a friend of a friend in Jackson on top of the hike, Jealeisa, and asked if she would film my air with my phone and ski it down afterward. She was stoked to see it and said for sure, so I lined up my takeoff, backed up fifty feet and sent a huge backflip off the cornice and stomped the landing, skiing all the way to the bottom. I was so stoked, what an epic day, backflipping off the Palisades was one of my bucket list items at Squaw and i was pumped. I’ve seen videos from McConkey backflip off it in old ski movies and always wanted to try it. Feeling good, I went down and joined the crew for some victory pizza.

 

After the last two days, I was super stoked on the trip so far and everything I got to ski. The final day, I met up with Nate and his friend Bevan and we headed up Donner pass for some backcountry skiing hoping to find some powder on the north facing slopes. It was another bluebird day, and we skinned up to the summit of Donner peak.

The summit had amazing views of Donner Lake. We found a fun mini-gap off the cornice at the summit and then skied some crunchy snow through the couloir. Out the bottom, we skied some hot pow, but the most excited part was the exit. We traversed over to an old train tunnel, and Nate said, that’s the way back to the car, pointing into the pitch black tunnel. We walked halfway in before the ground turned to solid ice. We put our skis back on so we didn’t fall down trying to walk and we skated about 100 yards until we popped out a hole in the side to where we could ski to the car. It was so cool!

As i exited the tunnel, i looked up, about 8 feet of snow stood on top of the tunnel, creating a perfect jump spot off the top. I asked the guys if they’d hang out for a bit while I went up and built a kicker to hit it. It took me about 25 minutes to build a jump big enough to clear the 30 foot gap. It was a little scary because i had to clear the 30 foot gap but i also had to turn right after i landed to avoiding going off a 40 foot cliff to flat.

I speed checked the in run a couple of times and decided I was ready. They set up the cameras and got the drone in the air and said to drop when ready. I threw a big backflip over the gap, stomped the landing and tuned through the cliffs. It was when I looked back up at the cliff that i saw how big it actually was and was very glad I made it around.

The start of the trip seemed like it was going to be a bust with the rain, instead it ended up being 2 of the most fun days skiing this winter! I love skiing a new resort and checked off a few bucket list items too. Trips don’t always work out this well, but you never know if you don’t go and that’s why I #alwaysgo.


Follow Owen: @o_leeps

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