Lake Tahoe Ski Trip – Part 3: Squaw Valley

Home of the 1960s Olympics, and one HELL of a mountain, Squaw Valley is just awesome.  Seriously.  Go there as soon as you can.

Our third day did not get off to a good start.  Upon arrival, we were informed that 60-70% of the mountain was not accessible because high winds had forced the shut down of the lifts.  Always a good start.  And the staff informed us that there was a better than 50% chance that they would remain closed for the rest of the day.  Better and better.  Particularly when you’re staring at an almost $100 ticket.  Unless your active duty military, in which case it’s free.  Don’t get me wrong, I have absolutely no problem with that, I’m merely jealous.  But we rolled the dice and headed up the KT-22 Express.

We were greeted by howling 40-50 mph winds, which were doing a nice job of picking up the frozen granules of snow and flinging them into our faces.  Splendid.  As fast as we could, we slipped down “Saddle” and onto “Mountain Run”.  It was still pretty early in the day, and as they hadn’t received any new snow (sounding familiar?) the trails were pretty hard and fast.  About the only good thing about that was it gave my friend a good opportunity to test out his new Garmin watch and see how fast he could get.  I’d left my Garmin at home, so I was relying on the Squaw Valley app.  Pretty cool app actually.  I liked how you can open up your camera and it will put in data about what you’re looking at.  But I imagine you’re reading this for the skiing, not the app reviews.  In any event, we were getting upwards of 40 mph.  Disclaimer: NEVER NEVER NEVER go that fast if there are people on the slope below you.  If you want to hurt yourself by crashing at high velocity, that’s your choice.  But other’s shouldn’t pay for your choices.  Luckily, the high winds and weekday crowds made the slopes almost empty.  Having no crowds is awesome.

Not looking for another bout with the horizontally flying icicles, we headed skiers right towards the “Squaw Creek” lift.  Not that we had a lot of choice with the lift situation, but there you go.

Squaw Valley - 1

Here’s a view from the lift looking down the valley.  Good naming choice.

IMG_0026_2The “Squaw Creek” lift is pretty high.IMG_0028_2…but it would be even higher if you were downloading.

The area serviced by that lift is more intermediate, but there’s some fun slopes to be found.  We did a few laps here before headed back to the main part of the mountain.  We were planning on hopping back in the car to drive to “Aspen Meadows” which is Sqaw Valley’s sister resort a few miles down the road to see if the weather was any better there.  But wouldn’t you know it?  The winds died down and we got to explore more of the mountain.

And what a mountain it is!  It just goes on, and on, and on.  And on.  Seriously.  You just seem to keep linking lifts without end.  Because of the conditions, we didn’t explore most of the really steep terrain, but oh boy did it look like fun.  We spent most of the afternoon doing long cruisers and hitting mogul patches when they looked to be slightly softer than rock.  Squaw had a different feel than the other resorts we visited.  Less tree cover and more exposed rock.  But I think that just adds to the epic feel of the place.  Monoliths of stone jut out around you as you carve down the mountain, and there’s just so much sky above you.  And it’s nice to have runs long enough that when you get to the bottom, you’re not too offended that you have to get on the lift again.  Again, the lack of crowds really helped us log the miles that day.

Anyway, Squaw is a mountain that could take 3 or 4 days to really explore, and if it had some good snow, I think you could easily spend a week there.  I will definitely be back.

Lake Tahoe Ski Trip – Part 2: Heavenly

(Written 1/28/13.  Yes, I’m a little behind)

The adventure continues!

For those of you who are unfamiliar with skiing in the Lake Tahoe area (which included me until about the last week), the resorts can be roughly split into North and South areas.  Staying on the north side, we were looking mostly at the north areas as a matter of convenience, but we knew there were some great resorts on the south side.  Of course, that means going around Lake Tahoe.

Lake Tahoe is quite large.  It’s got around 72 miles of shore line, and Heavenly, the area we were going to, is squarely on the opposite corner of the lake.  So it was going to be about a 90 minute drive to get there.  That is in part the distance, but also due to the fact that the speed limit on NV-28 (the highway on the east side of the lake) doesn’t go above 45 mph.  All that is annoying, but honestly, as long as you can see the lake, you don’t care.

Lake Tahoe is stunning.  There are so many other words to describe it, but I found myself always coming back to just gaping at the beauty and scale of it.  It reminded me of southeast Alaska, where you have the mountains coming right down to the water.  And the water!  So many shades of blue and so unbelievably clear!  I need to come back in the summer so I can go swimming.  Maybe that will end up being a blog post in the future.

But back to Heavenly…  The route we took lead us into Nevada, but the base of the gondola is just back in California.  You can tell because there’s a veritable wall of casinos marking the end of Nevada.  We parked in a garage a short walk from the base of the gondola, got our tickets (unless you’ve got a Vail resort pass, because this is another Vail resort), and headed up.

As you step off the gondola, you are faced with an immediate decision: do you want to ski in California or Nevada?  There are literally signs pointing you to different states.  While that doesn’t really have that much of an effect on the skiing experience, I’ve never encountered something like that.  And maybe they set that up to distract you from the hike that you’re about to take.  Whoever designed the layout of the gondola drop off either has no idea how to ski, or never bothered to look at a topographical map.  You’re going to be in for about a 200 yard hike if you plan on skiing in California.  Sure, 200 yards isn’t that far, but when you’ve gotten yourself all geared up and up the first lift, you’re expecting to step into you skis and be off, not slogging through the snow with your skis on your shoulder.  But eventually you end up on “California Trail” and your day begins.

Our day started a bit cloudy, with a dusting of new snow.  Nothing to write home about, but better conditions than we had found at Northstar.  Heading east, we took the “Sky Express” lift up to 10,040 feet.  I imagine the view from there on a clear day is pretty amazing, but alas, we had clouds.  We took a few runs through this area, a mix of blue cruisers with some mogul covered blacks.  The grooming crews really did a good job keeping the snow from icing up, as the temperatures were probably in the high 20s or low 30s.

Heavenly - Iced Tree

This picture would really benefit from having a skier near the base to provide a sense of scale.  The trees here are just absurdly large.  I think it helps make the glades a bit more open, and as someone who is a little intimidated by tight glades, I realllly like that.

From here, we headed east into Nevada, taking “Skyline Trail” into “Dipper Woods”.  “Dipper Woods” was the best skiing to found the whole day.  A nice loose glade, that while a bit tracked out, still had some soft snow that you could really enjoy as you went whipping through the trees.  We ended up on “Big Dipper”, but my friend and I managed to get separated from the rest of our party.  But that’s ok.  That’s why you make a “missing skier plan”, where everyone in your group meets up at a certain time.  You might think that this isn’t necessary in a world with cell phones, but trust me, it’s well worth the 30 seconds it takes to put it in place.  As it turned out, cell phone reception was pretty poor on the part of the mountain we ended up on, and besides, it can be really hard to hear your phone if you’ve got it buried under several layers of clothes.  But we ended up meeting at the East Peak Lodge for lunch.  The food at Heavenly, much like at Northstar was good, plentiful, and expensive.

After lunch, we headed up the “Dipper Express”, and down through “Dipper Woods” into “Mott Canyon”.  “Mott Canyon” would be great… if it had some more snow.  You’ll find that for this trip, that line comes up a lot.  While the Tahoe area got some good storms early in the season to build up the base, they haven’t been receiving a lot fresh snow.  Still, it’s better than the main resorts in Colorado have been experiencing.

Heavenly - Lake from Lift



Here’s a shot of the lake from one of the lifts.  I can only imagine how spectacular it would be coming down the mountain towards the lake on a bluebird day.

At the end of the day, we headed south and then up the west side of the lake, stopping at the overlook at Emerald Bay.  Definitely worth the stop.

Lake Tahoe - Emerald BayApparently there is a little castle of some sort on the island.  Holy crap that would be a sweet place to live.  A little inconvenient if you had to run to the store, but what a view!

A long day with all the driving, but totally worth it.  I’d love to see more of south Tahoe, but that will need to wait for another trip.


Lake Tahoe Ski Trip – Part 1: Northstar

Hi folks, I’m sorry for the lonnnnng delay in posts.  It’s been a little busy.  I actually drafted these while I was on my ski trip awhile back, so I hope you enjoy.

As you might have read in some previous posts, I was getting ready for a ski trip to celebrate my sister’s 30th birthday.  Well, we looked into going a few places, but ended up settling on Lake Tahoe, CA.  Now I had read about the resorts surrounding Lake Tahoe in skiing magazines and online articles, but I have to be honest, I was a complete Colorado snob.  There was just no way that these resorts were going to stack up to my beloved Breckenridge, Vail, Beaver Creek and Telluride.  You’ll notice that I use the past tense, because I am a convert.  Don’t get me wrong, I still love my Colorado mountains, and they are truly world class, but so is the stuff here in Tahoe.

We are staying outside of Truckee, which is on the north side of the lake.  It’s a fairly easy drive from the airport in Reno, and there are plenty of option for accomodations.  My sister arranged for us to stay at a nice rental house complete with hot tub, which has been AMAZING after long days of skiing.

Our first ski day lead us to Northstar.  Northstar is one of the Vail resorts, and the base certainly has that familiar upscale feel to it (complete with very upscale parking costs of $25).  But I don’t go skiing to sit in the lodge and drink hot coaco, I’m there to hit the slopes.  And Northstar does not dissapoint.  It took us a gondola and two chairlifts to get us to the top, but from there, you can reach anywhere on the mountain.  Because the weather had been unfortunately lacking in snow, we started off on some cruisers in the area known as “The Backside”.  I’d insert my own joke here, but I’m sure you’ve come up with some already.  We warmed up on “Castle Peak” and “The Islands”, which are both nice, long cruisers.  From there, we started venturing into some of the more gladed areas.

I am not a big glade skier.  Quite frankly, I think I’m just too big for it.  Also, with telemark turns requiring (generally) a bit more room than normal turns, it’s just not a lot of fun lunging from one side to the other in the desperate hope of not wrapping myself around a tree.  But here in Tahoe, it’s a bit different.  I can’t put my finger on the exact cause, but the glades here are a little bit looser.  I think it might have to do with the positively enourmous trees.  Whatever the reason, I found myself venturing into the glades where the snow was a bit softer.  And it was a blast!  You still need to be heads up to not hit a tree, but there is enough time to react.  And it brought back some of the memories of being 6 or 7 years old when I used to head into the trees every time I could.  Of course back then I was about 1/3 the size am now, and weaving around the trees was a lot easier.

We spent most of the morning skiing “The Backside” (snicker snicker) and took our lunch at the Zephyr Lodge.  The food is your typical Vail fare, pretty good, but mighty exspensive.  But the accomdations are nice, and they give you plenty to eat.

After lunch, we decended to the portion of the resort called “Lookout Mountain”.  It’s mostly blacks, with one blue (“Washoe”) that’s a lot of fun.  All of it suffered from lack of good snow, but there were a few groomed runs that allowed you to rip top to bottom with some real speed.  But remember kids, always stay in control.  They even had signs reminding people that trees dont move, but they do hurt.  Good advice.  Also in this area is the summit of Lookout Mountain where you can take in the epic scenery of north Tahoe.

After we had skied our fill, which wasn’t hard given the almost complete lack of lines despite being a Sunday, we decended to the base around 3:00 pm.  And there we got to take advantage of the fact that Northstar is a Vail resort.  Freshly made smores were being circulated, and let me tell you, that tastes good after a long day of skiing.

After that, we piled back in the car and headed for home, tired, sore, and with great big smiles.

Pros: Vail-quality ammenities, decent variety of terrain, great scenery, glades, smores
Cons: Smaller resort, not a lot of real challenging terrain, expensive

Bottom Line: Worth a trip if you’re staying in Tahoe, particularly if you’ve got a Vail resort pass.  And did I mention free post-skiing smores?