The Atmospheric River: Adaptability in California’s Sierra Nevada

Words and photos by Ibex Advocate Jake Young

In early January of 2017, one of the largest storms of the past ten years struck California. The storm brought fierce precipitation causing floods, mudslides, and falling trees, but it also helped California escape one its most severe droughts on record. As the storm moved across the Central Valley, it ascended the foothills of the Sierra Nevada and started to dump a heavy blanket of snow across the entire mountain range. There was no other option but to seek out this fresh pow for an epic four-day weekend of resort and backcountry skiing.


With dreams of fresh powder on our minds, we left the San Francisco Bay Area at 4:30AM Friday morning of MLK weekend to avoid the gridlock caused by fellow snow seekers. There was actually so much snow that the main highway accessing Kirkwood Mountain was closed causing us to take a longer alternate route. As some of the first people on the lifts, the early morning depart and detour were well worth the trouble.


We spent the day skiing fresh snow at Kirkwood Mountain with almost non-existent lift lines in what would become one of my favorite days of skiing yet. After skiing, we treated ourselves to a healthy portion of Chinese takeout for dinner.

More of our friends made the journey up into the Sierra for another great day of skiing with completely blue skies.


We headed back into Lake Tahoe after our powder quest for a little après ski. The day would not have been complete without pizza, beer, campfires, and a few games of cornhole.


We had planned on heading back to Kirkwood on Sunday for another day of skiing, but as we summited Carson Pass, we saw what resembled a parking lot in the place of a highway. The metropolis of the Bay Area was fiending to get some of that fresh snow. After two epic days on the mountain, we were all pretty bummed that we might have to wait hours in 10 miles of absolute gridlock. Instead, we decided to adapt. We parked our car at Carson Pass and ventured into the backcountry to find some untracked powder.


What ensued was probably one of the most stereotypical California winter days I have ever had: fresh snow, not a cloud in the sky and a temperature that might convince you spring had come early.

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We hiked up to a rock drop and launched ourselves into multiple feet of fresh powder until our legs didn’t work anymore, then laid in the snow enjoying the views of the pristine Mokelumne Wilderness.

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After a full day of laughter and smiles, we all realized how important being adaptable and flexible is as weekend warriors. When you only have a few days to get out there, you can’t waste a single second even if something goes wrong. And who knows, sometimes your day might even be more righteous than initially planned.