- Associated Press - Friday, November 27, 2015

RENO, Nev. (AP) - If it weren’t for about three to five minutes of involuntary smiling the two hours of sore feet wouldn’t have been so easy to overlook.

I guess that means I should be especially grateful there was still nice snow on the only real downhill portion of a six-mile ski tour to Lake Winnemucca in the Carson Range.

Snow on the gentle slope, just west of Winnemucca Lake, was still powdery and deep enough to enjoy more than 48 hours following a storm that dumped less than a foot in the Carson Range.

Had snow on the high point resembled warm, gloppy stuff toward the bottom near Woods Lake it would have made the only shot we had at real skiing a messy struggle.

It’s early in my second season of attempting backcountry skiing, which means I’m still sticking to the safest, most manageable terrain. That makes my choices more limited than a backcountry expert and makes me pretty happy when the forces of geography, weather and timing conspire to help me make just a few turns, even if it requires hours of skinning to make it happen.

The most recent tour covered low angle terrain near the Carson Pass that includes amazing views and in winter is suitable for skiing and snowshoeing.

I was traveling with Daniel Ellsworth of Reno, an experienced backcountry skier who took the lead in planning the route and timing in order to maximize safety and scenery.

We started at the Meiss Meadow Sno Park (California Sno Park permit required) along Highway 88 in the Carson Pass.

From there we crossed the highway and started breaking trail generally uphill and to the south until we reached the Pacific Crest Trail where, fortunately, there was an existing skin track that made travel quicker and easier.

Once we reached the trail we continued south onto a high meadow ridge that offers fantastic views of Elephant’s Back, Caples Lake and the Carson Range. Traveling along the ridge we reached Winnemucca Lake and the high point of the tour.

From there many backcountry travelers will continue south and up to Round Top to access steeper terrain. On the day we were there, however, snow was still thin and the Sierra Avalanche Center forecast said danger was still moderate on steep terrain above the tree line. It was already about noon, which, during the short days of mid-November, meant sunset was less than five hours away.

At that point we turned northwest, removed the skins from our skis and started skiing toward Woods Lake.

It’s a smooth slope that didn’t allow for carrying much speed, which was fine with me. Being new to backcountry skiing I’m still pretty wary about boulders, trees, stumps and other obstacles that come with skiing outside the boundaries of ski resorts.

The skiing lasted for maybe five minutes, which was enough to cover about one-third or more of the distance to Woods Lake and maybe 500 vertical feet.

Still, cruising down the slope I realized I was smiling and having as much fun on the gentle grade as I have on much steeper, groomed terrain at resorts. My skis were floating nicely on the powdery snow, the view was awesome and there were no other people around me.

Then the slog began.

Warming temperatures made the snow sticky and the terrain was wooded with lots of downed trees and boulders to negotiate.

There was also no skin track so we were once again breaking trail. About every five strides I had to bang my poles on my bindings because the accumulating snow and ice between the skis and bindings was pitching me forward and making it difficult to travel.

Eventually we reached Woods Lake, which is accessible by car in the summer but difficult to reach when there is snow in the mountains.

Near the lakeside picnic area we reached the snow-covered road back to Highway 88 which, fortunately, had a skin track to make the approximately two-mile, uphill hike back to the Sno Park a little easier. Still, after a few hours in ski boots on heavy snow and obstacle-covered terrain my feet were getting hotspots that, luckily for me, didn’t turn into blisters.

Although we traveled by ski, the Winnemucca Lake area is also a good place to explore by snowshoe. But keep in mind that winter travel over snow is more physically demanding, slower and more hazardous than summertime hiking.

The Sierra Avalanche Center provides snowpack observations and avalanche forecasts that are critical to safe travel. Also, winter travelers should carry winter safety gear and appropriate layers of clothing to make their trip safe and comfortable in conditions that can change quickly from warm and sunny to cold and windy.

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Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal, https://www.rgj.com

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