Backcountry Skiing – Mount Morrison

Mount Morrison, located just south of Mammoth Lakes California, has to rank as one of my favorite peaks in the Sierra Nevada.  This pyramid-shaped peak is clearly visible from all approaches to Mammoth by road, but does not present any clear ski descents from the summit.  Happily, there are a couple of really fun half day ski routes on the east side.

I have heard my favorite route called Old Man’s Bowl by some, but the people who first brought me there simply called it Little Morrison.  It is not an especially challenging route, but it does offer great views, a respectable 4000 foot vertical and easy access. A real bonus to this route is that it begins at Convict Lake, one of my all-time favorite places to hang out no matter what the season.  The sheer face of Mount Morrison rises right out of the waters of the lake and it is just spectacular. A path leads around the north side of the lake and there are some great picnic rocks along the shore.  I highly recommend visiting whether you plan to ski or not. This is a great place to bring a group that includes non-skiing friends or family. They will have no problem entertaining themselves with walks along the shoreline or some photography while you earn your turns. This location is so scenic that I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t enjoy a visit.

Access is super easy off of Hwy 395, look for the signs to Convict Lake across from the airport just south of town. Parking is not an issue.

From the parking area climb southeast up the moraine and continue up the valley. The route is pretty obvious, just walk parallel to the ridge on your right. You will see a couple of narrower chutes to your right as you walk up the valley.  Depending on the snow, these are often skiable if you are looking for more of a challenge, but our goal is a little further along and clearly more of a bowl than a chute.  Once you reach the bowl, it’s just a matter of climbing as high as you want to go. If the snow and your abilities allow, I highly recommend going all the way to the crest, it’s definitely worth the effort.

From the top, you are rewarded with a great view of Mount Morrison’s main peak as well as the White Mountains and high desert.  It is possible to contour around the ridge to some other routes but do do only if you have scoped them out from below first.  I hear that a few people have skied routes from higher up on Morrison itself, but I have not found anything that stays on the reasonable side of my crazy meter.

My favorite time to ski this route is in early spring when the snow is dependable but stable. I have found some great corn around mid-morning once the sun has had a chance to just soften the top inch or so.  I would not recommend this route after a heavy snowfall as you have to cross below some obvious slide routes.

The route offers the opportunity for big, high-speed turns, one of my favorite pastimes. Typically the snow is pretty clean so I have never had a problem opening up a bit here. There is just enough steepness to keep it interesting, but it is also suitable for skiers and boarders who are just getting their backcountry legs too.

No matter what time of year, a visit to Convict Lake and Mount Morrison should be high on your Eastern Sierra to do list.

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