Mountain ranges in East Idaho with summits greater than 9,000′ seem to have plentiful early season snow depths. The Lemhi Range in no exception. I recently compared fifteen years of SWE at the Meadow Lake Snotel and could not find a year similar to, or greater than right now. Although, what is above average for the Lemhis would be pathetic amounts for the Tetons or Sawtooths. It is the hunt and the adventure of Lemhi skiing that is the draw, not quality or depth of snow.
Safe ski terrain can be a challenge to find in the Lemhis and becomes increasingly complicated to attain if the intent is to ski from a summit. Usually the deepest (skiable) snow is found in start zones and avalanches paths while the rest of the coverage has been stripped down to bare ground by the wind. Below treeline the snow is often shallow; leaving rocks and logs exposed.
The snowpack is often shallow and quickly becomes weak faceted most seasons and may consist entirely of faceted snow crystals until spring. There are many reasons why people don’t consider skiing in the Lemhis, and many other reasons why some people shouldn’t ski in the Lemhis.
Heather, Scott, and I headed to Rainbow Mountain on November 30th. This is the broad peak at the end of the Charcoal Kiln Road in the Birch Creek Valley. We wanted to ascend above treeline, check out snow conditions and ski from a summit. Rainbow’s low angle east ridge and mellow east face afforded the large safety margin we wanted for our first trip into the range this season.
Our ascent and decent was pretty casual and quite enjoyable. Despite an approaching storm, we had light winds on the summit with temps in the 20’s. We skied hard, wind-blown snow along the east ridge and re-crystalized powder on the upper half of the east face. Below 8,800′ the snowpack was entirely faceted with no base. We shouldered the skis and walked down a south facing rib on the east face that was mostly free of snow. Once in the valley, we were able to ski supportable snow back to the car.
All is all it was a great early season success in the Lemhis.
– Dean Lords