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.

 

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