Spring is our favorite time to ski the Sierra – the days are long, the weather generally fine, and the snow is fantastic. The snow follows a predictable cycle of firm in the morning to soft and silky in the early afternoon, and we follow the sunny slope aspects as the sun clocks around, seeking out the best runs. This repeated “freeze/thaw” cycle produces a unique form of snow featuring a large grain size known to the spring skier as “corn snow”. Never mind the science: we find ourselves constantly in debate as to what is more fun, skiing powder snow, or skiing corn snow. For the pleasant temperatures and ease of skiing, we definitely lean towards corn, at least in the spring.
Ski tours are great trips, offering plenty of skiing and great views but their focus is getting from point A to point B, not necessarily on finding the best skiing. Nothing beats long runs without a big pack, hence these corn camps. We ski one day with a full pack but then set up a base camp, day skiing from here for the next several days.
We return in the late afternoons to a well-stocked camp, great food, and solar showers. Truly a hedonists dream ski vacation.
We offer two camps:
Camp I in Rock Creek Canyon is a bit easier than the Palisades camp so we say this one is for intermediate skiers.
Camp II is based out of the Palisades area and is for fit, advanced skiers who want to rise early, climb high, and get some long descents.
Rock Creek Corn Camps
The goal of this camp is to ski as much as possible and have as much fun in the Sierra backcountry as we can. We time the camp to take advantage of the warm spring weather (we hope…), improved access as the winter snows consolidate, and the fabulous Sierra spring corn. This is truly “ego” snow and before long you will be out on slopes that you never would have believed you were able to ski.
Norman Clyde was one of the most well known Sierra pioneers and as well as his record of hundred of first ascents in the Sierra was also an accomplished skier whose habit was to seek out the best of the range’s skiing. Every spring he would set up a fully equipped base camp in Rock Creek Canyon and ski for days on end, leaving his tracks where few had skied before him. In his footsteps came 70’s guru Doug Robinson who also sang praises of Rock Creek’s skiing. And now The Sierra Mountain Center is proud to continue this tradition of spring skiing in this backcountry skier’s paradise.
We will meet at Tom’s Place just off Highway 395 between Mammoth and Bishop, do also do an equipment check and divide up group equipment before traveling to the end of the Rock Creek road. We are never quite sure where the road closure will be since it varies with the season, but we hope to park above Rock Creek Lake, about five miles from our camp
It takes us the rest of the day to get established at our camp alongside of Treasure Lakes and the following three days are spent exploring the open bowls and secret hidden spots at the head of Rock Creek Canyon. Camp is at an elevation of 11,300 feet with peaks of up to 13,700 feet surrounding us. We will be able to accommodate skiers of differing abilities and this is the ideal opportunity to improve your skill and techniques as we work with you giving advice and tips. We will also discuss snow stability and dig snow pits to assess the snow stability to give participants a better understanding of the intricacies of snow science. Superb ski runs abound. Try “The Hourglass” under Mt. Dade, venture into the Hidden “Powder Bowls” or climb to the Mills Glacier. For the adventurous we can climb to the 13,000-foot summits of Mt. Dade or Bear Creek Spire and enjoy ski runs that start not far below the crests of these peaks. Add good food and great cooks to the corn snow and we have the ingredients for a long to be remembered ski vacation.
Palisades Corn Camp
Long a favorite of such pioneers as Norman Clyde, the Palisades area is legend among spring skiers. By mid May the winter snows have stabilized and melted off at the lower elevations but above 10,000 feet the spring corn snow is perfect and offers wonderful skiing. Based above Third Lake, overlooking the spires and buttresses of Temple Crag, we will stay for four nights and ski until we can ski no more. To assist us in getting to camp we will probably use the sturdy backs of porters and reduce the loads we have to carry. Distance to camp is about five miles.
This is the camp for skiers who are comfortable on their skis and want to get out and onto steeper and more challenging slopes. We have our choice of numerous lines, descents and tours. Just across Third Lake are the slopes of Temple Crag and the great short descent from Contact Pass. Up the valley a short distance is Mt. Robinson and for even longer runs we will head up to the Palisade Glacier and the four thousand foot runs from high under Mount Sill and Mount Winchel back to camp. We may even get a summit or two. Back in camp sun warmed solar showers await our return and a great dinner to top off the day.
We highly recommend that you spend at least one night at moderate altitude (higher than 8,000 feet) just prior to the trip. Spending a night or two in Mammoth or camped at a trailhead campground would do the trick. Please refer to our Planning for Success info sheet for more info.
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 pricy). 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. If this is not possible we will take time to get gear the morning of Day One but if it is already taken care of we can get out and ski sooner.