Skiing Crater Mtn
(Mono Craters)

28 Feb 2004 - by Reiner Stenzel

The Mono Craters are a row of prominent volcanic outcrops a few miles east of Hwy 395 and south of Mono Lake. In the summer they look dry and sandy but after a winter storm they appear attractive for backcountry skiing. Snowmobiles also hi-ride their slopes but none makes it up to the high point, Crater Mtn (9172'). To my recollection the Ski Mountaineers Section (SMS) has not lead trips in this area.

On this weekend the SMS had scheduled one day of telemark clinics at Mammoth Mtn and one day free skiing. During the previous days a storm had dumped 3 feet of snow in the Mammoth area. Luckily the storm cleared for the weekend. This was the right time to ski the desert-like peaks. Thus, on Sat morning two of us decided to ski Crater Mtn while everyone else was yo-yoing on the resorts. From Hwy 395 Leslie Hofherr and I drove east on Hwy 120 to the road closure just beyond the access to Mono Lake, where the road turns southeast. We decided to ski the range from the east since the access from the west appeared longer and through brush country. The snow covered road passed along the impressive crater walls.

After about 2 miles of skiing on the road we turned west guided by GPS toward Crater Mtn. The terrain started with gentle forested slopes that lead toward a canyon dropping down from a saddle between Crater Mtn and its next northern peak (8896'). The canyon ended in a steep gully, which looked avalanche prone. Thus we diagonaled up the east slopes of Crater toward a ridge coming down southeast from the peak. Since the slopes were loaded with a foot of fresh snow we carefully switch-backed up near trees until we reached the crater rim. In the open terrain we were greeted by a cold breeze. The snow-filled caldera was surrounded by many exotic looking peaklets but the GPS clearly pointed to the named summit. We skied to 50' below of the summit, took off the skis and climbed the cl2-3 ridge to the top. What a spectacular view! Blue Mono Lake and the white Sierra crest were quite a sight. The summit register was buried in snow below a summit cairn. The last entry was from Aug 03 and it was our pleasure to sign in first this year. Surprisingly, the wind calmed down so that we could enjoy our lunch and picture taking on the summit. In the distance we heard snowmobiles but otherwise there was nobody far and wide.

By 2:30pm it was getting time for the descent. After some careful initial turns on wind packed slabs near the top we reached the soft powder snow on the east face of Crater. It was a heaven for backcountry skiers: Untouched vast slopes of powder snow at an exciting but not scary angle. We left nice telemark tracks behind but had no time and energy for a rerun. After retracing our XC route we reached Hwy 120 which by now had many snowmobile tracks. Around 4:30pm we were back at the car after a wonderful day of backcountry skiing. We concluded that this would make a great SMS day tour, provided it is done right after a good storm.

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