3 Helpful Tips for Early Season Skiing to Get You Psyched

As I write this in late August, I can’t help but think that the waning daylight after work is signaling that summer is losing, and winter is on its way! If you haven’t started yet, it’s time to hit the squat rack, do some more burpees, and climb some vert, cause the skiing is coming.

If you’re like me, you’ve already contemplated where to go when those early season storms roll through, causing everyone to lament about the end of mountain bike season. If you haven’t, I’ll give you a couple of pointers to score early season turns and scratch the itch that’s been bugging you since May.

Elevation is your friend

Higher elevation always means more snow, and more snow means it will cover up obstacles quickly. Additionally, if the first storms roll in warm, the higher elevation will lead to snowfall rather than just slush. Park your car atop Mount Rose summit, at a lofty 8,911 feet (the highest year-round pass in the Sierra!). Climb towards Tamarack Peak (9897 feet) or head all the way up to Relay Peak (10,338 feet) to reap early season turns. Before you head out the door, make sure you’ve brought some rub on wax from MountainFlow EcoWax to deal with rapidly changing snow conditions.

early season skiing
(Yeah, October 2021 really was that good. Tamarack Peak.)

Keep Terrain Mellow

Mellow terrain is essential for early season turns. Rocks, stumps, and logs don’t have a lot of coverage yet. Some are still exposed and readily visible, but others are barely buried beneath the surface of the snow and begging to teach you the meaning of what skiers call a shark. Our goal here is to find terrain that is smooth (fewer obstacles to begin with makes life easier) and not steep (harder turns on steep terrain cause your skis to sink deeper). Steepness is easy to determine using a feature like slope angle shading on CalTopo, but scouting terrain by hiking it before it snows allows you to see what will be buried by the snow (and increases fitness!). A great shoe for scouting new ski terrain is the new Cloudwander Waterproof by ON Running. An expansion from the venerable Cloudventure trail runner, the Cloudwander provides extra support and slightly firmer cushioning to protect your feet on all your hikes and scrambles.

early season skiing
(Too steep & too bushy for October turns. Does it count as a faceshot though? Mount Rose area.)

Be Ready To Embrace Alternative Modes Of Adventure

The Sierra are renowned for their fickle weather. Early season turns could happen in October, while in other years, we have to be patient and wait until December. Be flexible, and appreciate that any adventure in the mountains is a great excuse to get outside. One of my favorite activities if it barely snows is to take out cross country skis. A ski like the Fischer S Bound 98 is perfect for early season adventures around Mount Rose meadows, and even allows you to make a few noodle turns on the gently sloping hills.

early season skiing
(When the stars align and you get a sunset skate on Echo Lake all by yourselves. January 2020)

Other years, the winter chill rolls in but the snow does not. Enjoy this rare weather window to partake in some Sierra ice skating, and enjoy the mountains in a way which often only happens for 1-2 weeks of the year. Make sure you have the proper safety equipment, and the ice is thick enough to skate on. Many of the lakes in the area will freeze, and conditions will depend upon temperatures, wind, and precipitation.

Stay Safe to Enjoy the Season Ahead!

Most importantly, stay safe and keep yourself in one piece so that you can enjoy the season ahead. If there’s enough snow to slide on, there’s enough snow to avalanche. Avoid obstacles for the sake of your ski bases and your body.

Let’s hope the upcoming winter brings powder skiing from October through May!

Get some pre-season training in with these hikes or runs to Ralston Peak or Allison Ridge!

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