Jean Peak: East Face

Driving across the L.A. Basin on Saturday was like being transported to a new and wintery world. Snow levels were down around the 3000' mark across Southern California, putting snow atop nearly all the foothill ranges, and coating the major ranges in vast sheets of gleaming white.

I confess I actually felt a bit of anxiety looking at it—so many things to ski, so little time. Routes that are almost never viable are currently in fantastic shape.

To be extra safe, my partner Bill and I decided to take the tram up and ski Jean Peak, in the San Jacinto Mountains. Jean offers moderate slopes in abundance, perfect for making turns on potentially-unstable slopes. To put my new skills into use, I did dig a snow pit, and I ran some compression tests. The results were a bit of a surprise.

The snow, as expected, was very dense and water-laden, with a nice graduation of lighter to heavier as I dug deeper. But I didn't expect to find a clean shear around 14" down. Reactivity was pretty much nill, but still, somewhere in the snowpack (at least on Saturday) there was a clearly unstable layer. It definitely made me feel better about choosing conservative terrain, post-Mega Storm.

The video shows the climb up and ski down. Our late start put us on the summit of Jean only about an hour before sunset, making for great photography. Views really were jaw-dropping. This might have been the most beautiful day skiing I've ever enjoyed in SoCal. And the snow was wicked good: dense but completely uncrusted powder. Float, float, float—I can still feel it beneath my toes. :)

— January 25, 2010

Andy Lewicky is the author and creator of SierraDescents

Scott January 25, 2010 at 8:42 am

You were smart avoiding Baldy. On Saturday I left LA at 6:45 but wasn't on a slope until 11:30. It was the perfect storm of idiocy and poor crowd control.

Good to know about the snowpack. I wonder how it compares to the SGs? What would it take to get a SoCal Avy center up and running? :)

Chad January 25, 2010 at 9:35 am

Climbed to the SJ summit on Sunday. Took the earliest tram and was on top about noon. Snow absolutely incredible. The ride down from the hut was all too short. Quite a rude awakening to see hundreds of people, most in jeans and tennis shoes slipping and falling down the railway from the tram station. Didn't have to wait for a ride down though. Seems most people were just arriving or weren't ready to give up yet.

Andy January 25, 2010 at 9:40 am

Yeah, the crowds at the station were a bit of a drag. We waited over an hour to catch a tram back down. But the skiing was sublime!

Chad January 25, 2010 at 10:09 am

Yea the skiing was sublime. Astonishing conditions. Great video. It's haunting me, calling me back. There's so much to ski up there. We're lucky more people don't put in the effort to climb past the ranger station. I did run into a couple of tele skiers on the way up. Nice backcountry old timers. One still in leather boots. Both smiling from ear to ear. Could have been a reflection of my own expression.

Eric January 25, 2010 at 10:19 pm

Fantastic video Andy. I've been up to San Jacinto before and it has never looked so good. Quick question. What topo map did you use while you were up there? Considering route-finding, do you use your topo map to determine slope before you head out. This is more of general question, then specifically related to San Jacinto. Although I'm considering heading up the tram this weekend. Thanks for any advice.

Andy January 26, 2010 at 9:59 am

Eric, I do almost all my route planning with Goggle Earth now instead of topos. You can get a good idea of slope angle that way, though of course expect to verify everything in person. Remember with the San Jacintos, everything changes when you shift from east to north aspects. Beware the north!! :)

tamberly January 26, 2010 at 1:44 pm

Video is GREAT...thats exactly why we climb! C'mon Bill NO AIR? miss ya

Scott January 26, 2010 at 2:56 pm

FYI, you can do your route planning in both!

Google Earth GPS Plugin:

It's pretty easy to use, and looking at 3d relief topos never gets old. Plus, you can print out whatever area you want.

Bill January 27, 2010 at 4:02 pm

Nice! What video cameras were you using?

Andy January 27, 2010 at 4:40 pm

The helmet cam is the ContourHD 720p. Everything else was shot with Canon's Vixia HF200, a 1080i handycam with good image quality in bright light.

Bill January 28, 2010 at 11:47 am

Cool! I just got the ContourHD for Christmas. I've been trying it out, but it seems quite finicky and only really works well in optimal light conditions.

Andy January 28, 2010 at 11:57 am

Finicky is a great way to describe it! But when you get things dialed in, it does deliver the goods. Get the vented helmet mount if you haven't already. The other mounts are worse.

Bill January 28, 2010 at 12:56 pm

Vented Helmet mount? You have a URL?

Andy January 28, 2010 at 1:51 pm

Here ya go:

Bill H January 31, 2010 at 9:29 pm

Tamberly - only excuses I have - 1) my feet hurt (new boots) and 2) I'm out of shape. Just past Andy (where he filmed me skiing toward him). It opened up onto a beautiful, open, virgin slope - OMG was all that came to mind. Didn't realize I said it aloud. After fighting the crowds at Mammoth this past weekend, this vid was a nice reminder.

Ben February 21, 2010 at 3:35 pm

Sublime video.

Arturo MarĂ­n June 21, 2012 at 7:55 pm


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