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Squaw + Mammoth 3/25-29 -- Trip of many misfortune but no, I didn't miss the powder!


Well-known member
Mar 2, 2008
Lower Hudson Valley
Decided to burn the 4 days on my MCP pass at Squaw and Mammoth. Easter weekend was the optimal time. Short day on Good Friday. So evening flight to Reno. Take 2 extra day off. Red eye Tuesday night, back to work Wednesday morning!

It was a trip of many mistakes:

1st mistake, I forgot to pack my goggle.

But I thought, heck, it's spring, I'll just ski in my sun glasses. It'll look a bit funny to have sunglasses under my helmet, but it's just as functional on sunny spring days anyway. I would come to found out how wrong I was.

Day 1, Squaw Valley.

I flew into Reno late on Friday night. So Saturday morning I wasn't too chippy and only got to the mountain nearly 10. Bright sunny day, gorgeous day! It suddenly occurred to me, although I've been to Squaw a few times, this is the 1st time I have good visibility! To say I was excited was understating it...

Up the Funitel and down to Siberia Express.

And promptly found my 2nd problem: one of my poles were missing a basket!

Oh well, spring skiing, slush and corn. Shouldn't be too big a deal. Not to be distracted. I just moved on. (it was never an issue on this trip)

Wow! Siberia is kind of steep for a blue! My "warm up" run consist of slaloming around fallen skiers and their scattered poles and skis! (I later realize the side I skied was actually a black)

Too crowded for my taste, I moved over to Emigrant Express. But before I left Siberia, I asked a ski patrol guy what's the best time to do the Head Wall on that day. "Afternoon" was the general answer. He then gave me a quick description and suggestion on which one to try first (Sun Bowl to anything on the far right as "easier" choices)

(top of Emigrant, mountain view)

(top of Emigrant, Lake view)

Emigrant skied well, so I stayed there for a few laps before heading down the back side. Bad choice. Surface was still frozen, teeth clanking coral reef. I "survived" down to Granite Chief. Not expecting much based on the condition of the Main Back, I was pleasantly surprised. The bumps were soft. So I stayed and alternate between GC and Shirley Lake, which was creamy smooth corn.

My lungs were feeling the altitude. My legs weren't much better. I stupidly did a big workout 2 days prior, thinking I would recover fully. Well, I'm not as young as I once was...

So a quick lunch break to rest my legs before I attack the Head Wall, I thought... Except I never really recovered. My legs were still rubbery after lunch. So I went up Siberia hoping that would help "wake up" my sleepy legs. Now the crowds had thin out and it skied reasonably well. And one of the runs that was used for racing earlier is now open. It has creamy smoothy snow, and steep enough to really get some speed up. So I went back up Siberia again in order to do the race run again. But on Siberia, the bumps really worked my legs, and I just didn't feel they were up for the Head Wall. I figure "well, I'll be here another day, I'll leave the Head Wall for tomorrow". So I went back up Emigrant Express and down Funnel to Shirley Lake again.

Shirley Lake Express stops a lot! In this ride, we stopped for quite a long while. When one of my chair-mates started to wonder what the cause was, another said he saw an injury being brought down on sled. Therefore must be loading the sled on the chair. Then the conversation started on that topic. And I was told a story about a good skier lost her life on the Head Wall and the consensus was it's just bad luck (all the locals seem to know about it). That puts a bit of a damper on my eagerness to "attack" the Head Wall. OK, I'll just take the easy one first...

Early quitting for day 1, save my legs for day 2...

(picture of one of the K-22 chute. You can also see the crowd, like tiny ants, on the groomer making their way down to the base around 3 o'clock. I opted to download on the Funitel instead)

1/2 hr later, I discovered my mistake #3: IMy helmet is not in the car!

So I went back to the chair where I took it off... the family that had their stuff spread out on that corner of the room was gone. So was my helmet! :(

Quick check with Lost and Found. No luck. Suggestion was to try again the next day.

Day 2, Squaw Valley (I've ski Alpine quite a bit before, so focus on Squaw this time)

1st order of business, check Lost and Found for any helmets. No luck.

The sun was behind the clouds. Although there's still good local visibility, the contrast wasn't great. It's also quite a bit colder. So the surface was slow to soften. I suspect I might have missed my chance to do the "real" Head Wall. But I was still planning to go up if only to get the view and just come down the blue. In the end, the visibility never got too good for a decent view. And the wind started to kick up as the day goes. So I didn't go up after all. I think the story about the skier who died there earlier in the season plays a role too.

Shirley Lake, on the other hand, was heavenly smooth. So I did the Funnel and Shirley Lakes loop a few times, with a bit of Granite Chief mixed in. The rest of the day was spent randomly poking around little lines hear and there. And trying to stay out of the wind. I had forgotten how much a helmet helped with keeping warm until I don't have one...

I packed for a spring skiing trip so I didn't bring my heavy warm jack & pants. Missing my helmet means I was borderline under-dressed in that chilly cloudy day with quite a bit of wind. By 3, I was worn out by the cold and wind. And decided I'd get an early start on my drive down to Mammoth.

Before leaving, I check Lost and Found one more time for my lost helmet. No dice.

South on 89 with a quick stop at Emerald Bay:

Day 3: Mammoth

Forecast was for snow!!! Well, good and bad news as far as I was concerned. Snow is good, but it'll be rough to ski while it's chucking down during daylight hours. Given how cold and uncomfortable I felt the day before, I wasn't too sure how well I'd handle the condition. Also, visibility will be severely affected so the upper mountain would probably be off limit.

Up early to check condition. Holy cow, wind hold galore! Only 6 lifts were running!

So basically only Eagle and Canyon base were in operation. I choose Eagle, figuring most people would end up at Canyon. That was a good decision. I was later told Canyon was a bit of a zoo. (Even at Eagle base, though was 3rd in line at the ticket desk, it took a good 10 minutes before it's my turn. Everybody was trying to decide if they want to go up or not. I didn't have a decision to make, I had two free days from my MCP and I had only 2 days there, use it or lose it)

At the ticket desk, I was told the condition was "firm". Boy, FIRM it was, and a big understatement! It was coral reef coated with lubricant! But the old, wise women at the ticket desk also told me, if it were her, she'd head to Roller Coaster. That's where i headed for once I 'warmed up'. (that was a misnomer, I was barely warm enough, with the wind blasting my un-helmeted head, nor does sunglasses stop wind quite as well as goggle either)

But as quickly as the wind came, they calm down just as fast. By mid-morning, about 10 lifts were running, going up to the mid-mountain area. So technically, at least half of the mountain were now "open"! Condition however, is a different story. For the most part, it's coral reef with lubricants, interspersed by pockets of wind blown "powder". (skiers are by nature optimist, we only remember the "good" snow and forget the ice hard part)

So I lapped Roller Coaster, then moved on to Stump Alley, up chair 3 and found a pocket of wind blown powder so deep and dense I had to pole my way through! Well, the next run I pick a much steeper line and that worked much better! ;-)

All of a sudden, the cloud and snow came. Blasting ice pellet sideways. With the icy coral reef surface, if one's edge was set firmly, one is likely to got blown across the run at the wind's mercy. Not able to see where i was going, I set my edge and thought I stopped. Except I wasn't (no reference object visible). So I just uncelemonously flopped to the ground. With my hand on the snow was the only way I could be positive I was STOPPED.

Fortunately, I was just a short distance from Macoy station. So I made it there and settled down for a slow lunch while waiting for a break in the snow. About an hour later, I felt I caught a break and put my skis on. Well, the wind and the snow started just as quickly as I could get myself ready to go. Except this time, to my pleasant surprise, the coral reef surface underneath my skis were now coated with an inch of obliging snow! Yeehaa!!!

Well, to be brutally honest, it was a mixture of plain coral reaf and dust on crust, just an ever increasing presents of snow coating on the coral reef. And the steeper the slope, the less the snow gets to stay. They just got scraped clean from skis sliding on the icy crust. So I made the decision to head back to Eagle. Chancing the new snow stick to the flat trails better. And sure enough. It was! I got to straight line the beginner trail (because turning would lose too much speed I would get stuck in the 2" thick snow). I finished the day after some laps of the Eagle area. I was really cold by 3:30. On my last chair up, a pair of locals suggested, after hearing me moan about the cold due to no helmet, that I could RENT a helmet. Duh!

Day 4, Mammoth, Mini-Powder Day!

Although I didn't make first chair, it's a midweek day at end of March, so no line and no crowd. I took the advice on the Epic Unofficial Guide for Mammoth, parked at Mill Cafe and went up Stump Express. I was going to warm up on the fresh-on-groomer first. But as I near the top of my chair ride, I saw a large patch of untouched powder right above with only 2 tracks on it, I saw few people on the chair (3?) that access it. So I quickly changed my plan and jumped on that chair and dropped into that patch and made my track the 3rd one!

(I was too "powder feverish" to stop to take picture. I wish I did, should have stopped to take picture of my track on the untouched. But being from the east, we don't get to ski powder too often. Stopping to take picture was the last thing on my mind)

Then it's up to the top of the mountain. The runs I did were all a blur. I did the front a few times, moved to the back. Plenty of untouched powder pockets large and small. There were no waiting on ANY lift. Because it was 5-8" on frozen coral reef so surface condition alternates between pocket of nice deep powder to dust-on-crust and everything in between, changes every 10 turns!

Since there's no lift line whatsoever, (not even on the gondola) I skied non-stop for about 3 hrs. Then suddenly, I couldn't figure out why I was skiing like crap... I was getting tired and the powder finally started to get skied off!

Stopping for lunch was probably a bad choice, but nonetheless a necessity. By the time I got back out again, all the new snow on the steeper black runs had gotten pushed into the woods/cliffs and the frozen bumps underneath was brutal. I took a header at one point that was really painful so decided to take it easy. Turned out the blue groomers still had some wind blown powder on them. Mammoth is well known for wind, in this case really helpful! So I wrapped up my day with some laps on the hero snow blown in by the wind in the runs between Stump Alley and Roller Coaster.

Standing next to the car at the end of the day, I found out I narrowly missed making mistake #4: my phone fell out of my powder skirt! It turned out I forgot to zip up my pocket after putting my phone into it (inside pocket of the jacket). So when I did my little header, it must have fallen out of the open pocket. But fortunately, it was caught by the powder skirt. Mind you, I didn't do up the powder skirt for the 5" of powder. I was worry about the cold so did it up to stop the wind from coming up my waist! Phew...

In the end, I lucked out with a very good day. Got quite a bit of powder. A trip of many misfortune but fortunately, no missed opportunity!

3 hrs drive back to Reno. Still time left to pig out in a buffet at the casino before my 6 hr red eye back to New York. Dump my skis at home and straight to work. A ski bum's weekend! Haha.


New member
Mar 20, 2013
Great report, sounds like a great trip! When you say the "Headwall", are you referring to The Palisades? They look REALLY filled in!

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Well-known member
Mar 2, 2008
Lower Hudson Valley
I'm not a Squaw local, (and remember, this is the first time I had good visibility to explore the upper mountain) so take my understanding with a grain of salt:

Headwall is the name of the lift.

There're a bunch of trails fanning off that lift in all directions. All but one are black and some of them positively gnarly.

Palisade is the section if you go straight getting off the chair, and is probably the steepest of them all.