Ski Descents

Any skier who has driven Highway 395 has probably looked up at the hundred miles of peaks stretching from Lone Pine to Tioga Pass and marvelled at the abundance of opportunities to get out and ski long runs from the mountain tops to the valley floor. Spring is the high point of our ski season and one of our favorite times of the year. These descents range from mere thigh burners to all day undertakings with predawn starts and late afternoon finishes. You choose the length: a good day gets us 4,000 feet of vertical and longer runs are possible.
We keep the itinerary open until we see how conditions are and which aspects are in the best shape, then make our selection based on this information, and the group’s experience and objectives. There is certainly no shortage of lines to choose from. One of our favorites is the legendary Elderberry Canyon. The driven among you can go all the way to the summit for a very long day with 7,000′ of descent.

Most mortals however are content with four to five thousand feet of what at a ski area would be an intermediate “blue square” run. Or how about Basin Mountain: starting from just below the summit and down 6,000′ into the sage desert. More technical are the Wahoo Gullies on Mt. Locke or Morphine Canyon above Tom’s Place. Or how about Jawbone Canyon, Esha Canyon on Morgan, White Mountain or Ellery Bowl or… the list just goes on.

No matter what we choose you will be assured of skiing the best runs we can find and combining a moderate day of mountaineering as well, usually with a summit to aim for.

Generally we start early in the morning before daylight and head out while the snow is firm with easier traveling conditions. We time our turn around to catch the best conditions on the way down and want to be finished before the snow gets too soft and mushy, usually getting back to base in time for a snack and to relax and gloat over our tracks high above.

For these programs you can use telemark or alpine touring equipment, your choice. Snowboarders are welcome on these trips too. Whatever you choose be comfortable on the gear going uphill as well as on the descents.

Here is a video account of a personal ski trip to Mt. Tom near Bishop. What a guide does on his day off.


SMC does not rent ski equipment, but we work with Mammoth Mountaineering (760-934-4191) to get you set up on the correct equipment. MMS has a very wide range of rental equipment that is probably the best you will find anywhere in California. All gear is current state of the art, well tuned and rental fees are deductible if you buy a set up from them. (We highly recommend renting before you buy so as to find what suits you best, since a full setup is pretty pricey). We can coordinate the rental and suggest that if you can you arrive Mammoth the night before and get fully set up since boot fitting can take some time

We provide a campground for the night at Millpond just north of Bishop.

If you want a hotel room to go back to we can arrange this for you, but we do not include this in the program price.

Return to Take a Load off Your Back

We offer two different camps…

Camp I: Based in the Bishop area

Meeting place and time: We will meet at the SMC office at 6:00p.m. the night before the scheduled start of the trip. This allows us to complete a gear and equipment check and to outline the following days activities since an early start will probably be in order. The world headquarters of Sierra Mountain Center are at 174 W. Line Street, in Bishop. Line Street is an east/west street marked by the southern-most traffic light on Main Street/Highway 395, in town. We’re west of the light, on the south side of the street next to the health food store. A large parking lot is located on the south side of the building. We will have camping arranged at Millpond Campground just north of Bishop where there are ample car camping sites and hot showers. If you prefer to stay in Bishop in the comfort of a motel let us know and we can arrange that for you. (Motel expense is not included in the program price but camping is). You can cook in the campground or go into Bishop for meals except breakfast, which is probably best had in the campground since it will be an early start.

Camp II: This is based in the Tioga Pass area

We time this camp to take advantage of the opening of the Tioga road which allows us to drive right to snowline and put skis on at the car.

Meeting place and time: We will meet at 6:00pm at the Nicely’s Restaurant in the center of Lee Vining the night before the scheduled start of the program. From here we will proceed to our campsite in Lee Vining Canyon and prepare for the following day’s activities. If you prefer you can stay at a motel in Lee Vining and we can assist in coordinating this for you. We’ll return to camp each afternoon in time for a solar shower, snacks and to get ready for another early start and great skiing the next day. Again, meals are not included in this camp.

Program Prerequisites:

No prior backcountry experience, but downhill ski ability at SMC Ski Skill Intermediate or better.

Program Inclusions:

Price includes guiding, permits, group ski kits, avalanche equipment (beacons, shovels and probes) and 2 nights at a local campground. Does not include ski equipment.

We do not include accommodation in the pricing but can make local suggestions for you.

Please Read before you go

We feel the following information is essential... (links open as PDF in new window)

  1. Details, itinerary, and equipment list for your trip
  2. SMC Cancellation Policy
  3. Suggestions on preparation - get the most out of your trip!
  4. Tips on physical training for your trip
  5. LNT - Let's work together to protect our precious mountain environment.

Rental Equipment:

Need to rent equipment for your trip? We can help.