Tahoe Winter Update

telemark skier tilt shift kirkwood

Tiny boyfriend enjoying some fresh snow at Kirkwood over Presidents Day weekend

You might have noticed that I’ve not posted much about this winter.  I’ll be honest – it’s not been an ideal year for crowing about those 2-4 foot Sierra storms that leave nothing but grinning skiers in their wake.  Certainly the ski resorts have been able to make a lot of decent snow to cover the groomers (and I’m grateful they have).  But it’s been the year to travel for backcountry turns, which we have done.  That does get expensive, especially when one has a season pass and a home in what usually is a pretty awesome ski destination.  So we’ve made lemonade out of the situation, skiing the resorts because that’s where the snow has been, enjoying more early afternoon beers with friends than I typically do, and generally trying to chill the F out about things that I cannot control.

But after a few late-in-coming storms, it finally feels like winter, assuming you’re at the ski resorts or up above 7500 feet.  Upper elevations are surprisingly well covered, considering that the lower elevations and lake level have little to no snow left.  I had heard that conditions at Kirkwood were good, and confirmed that over the weekend.   Let’s just say that if you looked carefully you could find chalky snow and ski lines that you didn’t think would be possible this season.

That said, I’d be happy if March lived up to its ‘Miracle’ name of yore, both for my personal desire to have some powder turns as well as the state’s painful need to combat the drought.   The storm that’s forecast to arrive later this week certainly helps, but we need more.

Since this whole snow dancing thing didn’t work to well in my favor (I danced, I swear), I’ve turned to drinking for snow, which is inherently more enjoyable.

Who wants to join me?

Van Sickle views

Van Sickle Clouds

Before the rain hit yesterday, N and I went for a short ride on the Van Sickle trail.  I should have stopped to take some photos of him riding, but instead I went for this photo.   Sunshine and blue skies are common place at Lake Tahoe, so it was nice to see a bit of texture with the approaching storm clouds.

Desolation Wilderness Under Snow

Backcountry skier above Lake Tahoe

Not a bad day at all.

I wanted to celebrate my new year with a big day out.  I wanted it to be somewhere new, and ideally involve winter snow.   The latter was of particular importance because my birthday falls in what locals call ‘Juneuary’.  Corn tends to be more plentiful than powder, and typically I have to go elsewhere if I want to get my snow fix.

This year I got both of my wishes.  N and I had been discussing heading back into Desolation Wilderness, and our friend Meghan kindly told us of some lines that hold winter snow weeks after a storm.  Lucky for us, she wanted to play too, so a posse of four telemark skiers set out from the Emerald Bay area early-ish on Saturday.

Skinning above Dicks Lake

The views were well worth the climb.

Our route involved some up, some down, lots of snow, very few people, and plenty of sunshine.  And views.  While I have spent a lot of time in the Desolation Wilderness, it’s been in the summer and fall mostly, so seeing it under snow gave me a whole new perspective.  There are a lot of skiable lines back there!

Backcountry skier above Lake Tahoe

She was right about the snow.

Despite my inherent skepticism, Meghan was right.  You can still find untracked powder, even in Juneuary.  Which we did.

It was a great start to my new year.   Yes, getting older sucks, but when it’s celebrated like this, it’s actually not all that bad.

Skiers crossing lake

Heading back after a fun – and full – day out.

Winter is back – really!

After what could optimistically be described as a disappointing ski season last year, it appears that Mother Nature is trying to win back Lake Tahoe’s affections.  She succeeded this month, with a series of big storms that left up to 94 inches of snow before and after Christmas.  The ski resorts couldn’t be happier, and frankly, neither could I.

The timing has been awesome, as many local’s season passes are blacked out during this holiday period, reducing the bum rush to get the untracked powder.  We’ve enjoyed relaxed days at our favorite ski resorts, lapping areas that typically are tracked out in minutes. Despite the holiday crowds, we also found untracked snow and few people at some of our favorite backcountry stashes as well.

While the snow volume appears to be slowing down for now, cold temperatures are forecast for next week, ensuring great mid-winter snow conditions will stick around.  At least until the next storm shows up.

Need proof of the awesomeness?  See below.

Trimmer bonus run from TahoeJenn on Vimeo.

Skiing with Badass Women

SAFEAS womens avy clinic

Scenes from the S.A.F.E.A.S. womens avy clinic.

There are a lot of badass women in this part of the world.  I’m talking professional skiers & riders, the types that win the Freeskiing World Tour, guide in Alaska, and that you see onscreen when you watch the latest TGR/Warren Miller/etc. production.  There are also a ton of badass women here who aren’t pros, but simply ski, ride, jump off things and go big in the park because they love it.

This past weekend I had a chance to meet a ton of these badass chicks at two separate events.  And I left both feeling inspired.  Inspired to push myself, to learn more, and most importantly, to have fun, whether on my own or with a posse of friends.

On Saturday, my friend Meghan and I drove up to Squaw Valley for the S.A.F.E.A.S. Women’s Avalanche Clinic.  It was a fundraiser for local non-profit, the High Fives Foundation, and was organized by professional skiers Elyse Saugstad and her friends Ingrid Backstrom, Michelle Parker, Jackie Paaso, Sherry McConkey and Squaw avalanche forecaster and ski guide Lel Tone.   This one day event was designed to provide women with basic avalanche awareness training.  It included a morning in the classroom, with lectures on snow safety, communication and proper travel techniques, and an afternoon on-snow practicing what we’d learned.

I’ve taken avalanche awareness courses in the past, but this felt different – in a very good way. Lel, Elyse and the other women made the concepts accessible, kept the pace moving, and were so supportive of all the women there, regardless of backcountry experience – or the clumsiness of their (read: my) shoveling skills.   While this was an overview course, Lel provided us with lots of additional resources for further follow up, and certainly inspired me to belatedly sign up for my AIAIRE Level 1 certification.  I can say without hesitation that it’s a course I would sign up for again in a heartbeat.

After an inspiring day with badass women, it was fortuitous that Meghan, who is involved with SheJumps, an organization whose mission is to encourage women to get outside, had planned the first ‘Get the Girls Out’ meet up the next day, at both Kirkwood and Squaw Valley.  I hit up the Kirkwood event and ended up skiing around with a group of women that kept growing.  I’ll let Meghan tell the story (and share her fun photos), but I’ll say this much – I love to ski, and I love to ski with my boyfriend, but skiing with a group of women is entirely different in a very good way.  And it’s a standing date I’m already looking forward to next month.  All women are welcome, so if you’re interested, the next one will be on January 13th.  You can find out more on Facebook.

I may never be truly badass (snarky seems to come a whole lot easier to me), but hanging out with such women sure encourages me to give it a go.

Le Retour de Winter

Backyard furniture under snow | Lake Tahoe

Guess it’s time to put away the patio furniture. Photo: N Miller

It’s back.  At least for this week.

(Old Man) Winter made his entrance in grand style this week, leaving a LOT of snow in his wake.  This morning my little Subaru got hood shots as I drove through the untracked snow on my street.  The ski resorts have been excitedly posting photos and updates as the snow totals mount (1-3 feet, if you’re curious).  Heck, one’s even going to open this Thursday for the day, clearly breaking some sort of California record.

Considering Winter didn’t really show up last year, it was good to see him, even if some might argue mid-October is a tad early.  Sure, the mountain bike trails are now covered with up to three feet of new snow, but you know what they say about making tracks while the snow falls, right?  So we did just that today, getting out for some kick ‘n glide in the local meadow and golf course.

Xc skiing near Lake Tahoe

First tracks of the season.

While this may only be a preview for the time being, I’ll take it.  Even if I still can’t locate my car snowscraper.

Destination Mountain Biking

I work in the tourism industry, where there’s a lot of talk about ‘destination travel’, the notion of going somewhere because of what it offers.  Think Tahoe for skiing, or Hawaii for the beaches, or New Orleans for the music.  I wanted to try to apply that to mountain biking, but on a much more micro level.

So, on July 4th we set our eyes upon a different sort of destination – Base Camp Pizza in the Heavenly Village.  To get there we admittedly took the least efficient route, but it was all in the name of food.

Riding the TRT from Star Lake

Riding the TRT from Star Lake. Photo: Jeff Glass

We began by climbing up to Star Lake and then taking the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) towards Heavenly’s Stagecoach Lodge.  This is a stunningly scenic portion of the TRT (really, what section of this trail isn’t?), one that I don’t ride that frequently.  In between technical sections there are dramatic vistas of both the Lake Tahoe basin to the west and Nevada to the east.

Views of Nevada from the trail

Views of Nevada from the trail. Photo: Jeff Glass

From the TRT we then descended the new-ish Van Sickle trail, another ridiculously scenic 3.3 mile section of trail, featuring views, technical sections and swoopy singletrack.

Sick views on the Van Sickle trail.

The Van Sickle trail ends at (wait for it) the Van Sickle Bi-State Park, located near the bottom of the Heavenly gondola…and the village.  Base Camp Pizza, located in said village, makes a Thai Chicken pizza that was enough of an incentive to ride 25 or so miles, which made for a much more decadent lunch than the smushed sandwiches we typically carry.

Destination thai chicken pizza.

After a lunch like that, a meandering ride home through the meadows was much needed, since both of us were not much in the mood to climb hills.

The final miles home.

But that said, it was a destination ride we would do again.  The pizza, and singletrack, were that good.

Star Lake in June

Star Lake in June

the earliest I’ve seen the snow melt up here, but I’m not complaining!

So, it’s nearly summer.  Signs of it are evident here. Temps in the ‘70s, longer days, more pronounced allergies, and the removal (finally!) of the cover at the public pool.  The bike trails are mostly melted out here too, even after a second round of snow that hit early last week, which means it’s time to start riding up in order to ride down.

Last weekend I headed up to Star Lake via the new-last-summer connector trail.  It’s an incredibly efficient way to climb up to 9200 feet, and I give huge kudos to the team that built it, because I love not feeling utterly spent by the time I reach the top.  It’s well worth the effort, whether you ride uphill for the views, for the descent, or for a combination of the two.

I will admit it felt a bit odd to be up there in shorts in early June.  Typically this doesn’t melt out until July, and last year I think it only melted out in August.  But, given this winter, I’m taking advantage of what will no doubt be a long mountain bike season here.

Since it was my first long-ish ride of the season, I descended the way I came, Star Lake to Cold Creek, which is a super fun descent ranging from rocky technical stuff to buffed out turns to switchbacks. But there are so many *other* possibilities from Star Lake, whether you ride the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) over Freel Pass to Armstrong or onto Toad’s (or for the super ambitious, onto Big Meadow and the Christmas Valley Downhill), or head back towards Nevada on the TRT over Monument Pass, and either continue along the Rim to Spooner, or descend Van Sickle to civilization (and a much needed beer).

Suffice to say, with options like these out my front door, I’m finding it hard to rally to travel anywhere with my mountain bike.  At least for the time being.