Location: Desolation Wilderness- Lake Tahoe, CA
Duration: 2 – 3 hours
Elevation Change: 2,697′ – from 6,538′ to 9,235′
Recomended Map: Pyramid Peak & Echo Lake, California
Map of General Route:
Ralston Peak is not a well-known backcountry ski destination, because access is not obvious or even available. The summit is hidden when viewed from the south, and you would never know it existed from a drive on hwy 50. The impressive, 2000’ northeast bowls viewed from Tallac or Echo Peak look intimidating and hard to gauge regarding avalanche danger. There are safe windows to hit this huge white wonderland on the north side, while a low angle south side approach at least leaves for a safe descent back to the car. Ralston has something for everyone.
Park on or near Sierra Pines Road, 5 miles west of Echo Summit on Hwy 50. A sign says “no parking when snow removal conditions exists’. This makes perfect sense to me. Nevertheless, I received a ticket here, when the snow was completely plowed to the stakes and no snow was in the forecast. The road was wide enough for any imaginable emergency vehicle to pass. I wrote in to defend myself, but did not get out of the fine. El Dorado reserves the right to ticket you pretty much anywhere outside the few California Sno-Parks, do to the ultra general Nov-May Rule. There may be room on hwy 50 to park way off the side of the road too. I’m not sure where other locals park. Ask Sue Novasel, Board of Supervisors for El Dorado County, why she has provided no access to Desolation Wilderness or backcountry skiing after being involved with many converstaions and “stakeholder meetings”. She has lived in Tahoe for 40 years. Take her up there! Luckily current El Dorado sherrif Lt. Underhill is very cool and a backcountry guy himself. He does not like skiers getting ticketed. Leave a note on your car that says “I need this car to be here when I get back, and thanks for letting us ski the backcountry!”
From Sierra Pines Road and Hwy 50, skin uphill above you car, through a low angle, treed slope and Tamarack Creek. The trees start to thin about halfway up, and you can easily feel your way to the top. Most of the terrain is not steep enough to avalanche along this south facing side of Ralston Peak. Don’t go too close to the edge near the top, as this area is heavily corniced. This is a great ski tour for less aggressive skiers, or people new to backcountry skiing. Enjoy fun skiing in a beautiful and relatively safe spot. You will likely have it all to yourself.
The ridge between Ralston Peak and Talking Mountain offers a number of quality ski descents on either side. Depending on whether you are looking for corn snow or powder, you should be able to sniff out excellent ski conditions on most days of the year. Cup Lake is a very cool formation, like a tiny crater on top of the ridge. Of course you need to get back to the car if you descend over here. I have parked out of anyone’s way in Phillips (shown on topo), below the steeper south facing slopes of Cup Lake. This zone is excellent for corn snow skiing, and catches you attention while skiing Sierra At Tahoe across the street.