You’ve been gearing up for what seems like for-ever already. Your new boots and gloves were barely used last season; they’re not even broken in yet... Your edges are still sharp, but you’re thinking you might do the wax, just to make sure you’re ready. Ready? For what? You can feel it in your bones, can’t you? El Nino’s promise is... So far so good, Eh? The long-lamented drought conditions seem to be waning a bit, and it looks like Winter’s off to a proper start this season! Every week lately, Tahoe gets a fresh delivery of long-awaited SNOW! Time to bust that lonely gear out of storage and head for the hills!
If you came to Tahoe over Thanksgiving, it was obvious that a large group of visitors here were snow-starved adrenaline junkies bent on ascending Heavenly. You were surprised? At how many people were lining up for the three runs that were open at the time? Lines extended around the entire block at Heavenly Gondola! It seems the wait for a lift up to the top was nothing compared to the one we’ve all endured for the past several seasons - of dry, warm weather. Yes, warm weather is great, in Summer (remember June-uary?). But in Winter, we want it COLD, and we want SNOW!
With lows dipping to single digits at night, there were no worries of melt-off occurring whatsoever this Thankgiving. Cold is what we got! Brr! And… snow! Indeed by all accounts, if you dressed properly, the snow conditions were quite good. This rating was given by even my local snow-bum friends - who have Season Lift Passes (for Heavenly, Kirkwood & Northstar) and take full advantage of them… So wait no longer. If you’re planning to hit the hills for skiing or riding this year, I recommend you get your passes online ahead of time. Not only will you save precious time, you’ll save some money too… Both are good things, yes?
The glamour of snow reaches beyond the desire to rush down hills at warp speed though, doesn't it? Fresh snow is pure, drawing a decisive line that neatly separates the warm seasons. It covers the previous season’s clutter and decay in a clean white blanket. nearly erasing the entire concept of Summer. The visual effect is dazzling. Perhaps this is by design? When you look out over a silvery, snow-covered landscape, it's breathtaking isn’t it? Glistening ice crystals in brilliant sun, this layer adds the finishing touches to the scenery: the evergreens, red snow plants, clear blues of Lake Tahoe reflecting the sky, and the deeper blues of the mountains, of which (from South Shore) Tallac is most prominent.
Affirming its authority at 9,375 feet, Tallac rises up to claim dominion during all seasons. It is the subject of hikes and countless photographs throughout our (relatively brief) history in its shadow. The Washoe called it ‘dala-ak’ which means ‘big mountain’. It was dubbed ‘Tallac’ in 1877 by a survey group (Wheeler) who renamed it from 'Crystal Peak' by an earlier (Whitney) survey group. Hmm… Seems you can’t name this mountain unless you’re with a ‘W’ group. I think the newer moniker is more appropriate since it’s closer to the name it was originally given. But I digress… Tallac seems even more distinguished during Winter when the snow is on it. With stark lines contrasting the deeply cut granite slopes, snow gives Tallac more character, more pop! I’ve hiked to the top of Tallac during the Summer, and the view is undeniable one of the best in the entire Tahoe Basin. But, I personally wouldn’t attempt it now because that might end in a warp-speed slide into oblivion.... Tallac looks just fine from where I stand (pictured above), which on this day happens to be from Heavenly on a weekday afternoon, just before the arrival of (Yay!) another snow storm.
However, there are those of the extreme-sport ilk that actually pursue opportunities for oblivion. Well... You must admit, there are some advantages you may not have considered. If you’re looking for exercise, backcountry skiing or boarding delivers in loads. Snowshoeing to the top of a mountain (or even a decent hill!) with a backpack loaded with gear, food and water, gets the blood and oxygen moving in a way most never know! It’s even harder than good-ole backpacking - a lot harder! Sure, the lift pass is free, but the cost in energy might be even... more? Well… There are advantages. You get to see the area in a way most never do. Most never even climb the mountain in the first place, and I guess it’s not for everyone. But... The feeling of achievement created in gaining the views is one that you simply cannot put a price on. You also cannot price the feeling achieved when you gain a Zen-like state of pleasant solitude. When you look out over Lake Tahoe from the peak of Tallac, you know darn well it is a prize worth paying for in time and effort. It is priceless. If you brave this climb during Winter, brace yourself. After you catch you breath and replenish some calories, what follows is an epic run. Yee-Hah!!... And he was never seen again…
Okay… I’m back. Racing down Tallac after a grueling hike isn’t for most of us, is it? You are likely of that group, right? So am I. Hiking on trails (packed-down by the snow mobile crew even) presents yet another lovely way to achieve that peace of mind you’ve been needing lately. You can kick it up a notch by escaping further with those snow shoes you’ve seen people toting around. Maybe you go this route on cross country skis already? Just go outside for a while. Be in it. Enjoy the snow. Make a snowman (woman/dragon/bear/fort…) with the kids in the yard. Let the imaginations roam wild! Take them sledding; there are innumerable places to do this in Tahoe. Go skating at the Heavenly Village or the South Shore ice rink. Dogs love to play in it, make that happen for them, and yourself - for you too will find a sense of joy. There's a lot of fun to be had during Winter. Don't miss out. Pick a direction and go! It’s all good for the heart and mind. Once you pick up that ball and run with a Winter activity that fits your idiom, I bet you’ll agree…
Along with the fun and beauty of snow: It’s ti-me for (Ta da!)
Mr. Ed’s Winter Tips:
Driving in snow is a challenge for a lot of flat landers. Yes, you know who you are. Don’t be afraid. Driving in snow can be very simple really: Give yourself plenty of time, Give yourself (and others) space, and Drive a Proper Vehicle (AWD or 4x4 only) with good tires. Above all Pay Attention! You phone addict/ drivers know who you are… After several close calls (and worse) with people who had their faces stuck in their screens, it’s a no-brainer why it’s illegal… Smack!
Then there is the unwritten (or contracted) snow maintenance to attend to. If you live here, you’re no stranger to snow-removal/relocation. During snow bumper years, snow removal can turn into a full time job clearing the driveway before heading off for the day, and then again when you return home so you don’t drive over it and pack it down like some do… This latter activity can create what locals call ‘Sierra cement’ - which is only removable when next May rolls around. This frozen obstacle course creates its own list of hazards and is why the road crews are there to clear them asap. Remember to give these drivers even more space than cars; because they have big-bumper diplomacy - the biggest bumper wins! Don't test that one. Snow removal crews are there to provide you safe passage, so maintaining your own courtesy angle will be appreciated by them, and you as well. When you extend an act of courtesy to someone (without an expected return), you will feel good about doing it. Go ahead, just do it. A wave from the driver you just allowed in front of you is nice acknowledgement (but won't always happen), and doing the favor in the first place is the right thing to do. And that’s a big part of what this season is about, isn’t it? Being aware of others and their right to be here just like you.
So, let it Snow, snow, and snow even more! Bring it on! We'll happily take another epic snowfall (like in 1952!). Everything in Life depends on water. Life in the Tahoe Basin depends first on the snow pack we receive, and the resulting opportunities granted by abundant water reserves. So, we rarely have too much. If, history repeats itself and the Basin shuts down for a few days from major snowfall, so what! We’ll survive, right? Staying in the cabin by the fire has its own charm, and there’s food in the fridge and pantry. Pull out that book you’ve been meaning to read, or your snow shoes. Combined with the tech-snow showering the mountain, we could be looking at full coverage on the ski runs by the time Christmas & New Year’s roll around. Get your gear together, because it’s on now. Everyone I know is happy to see the weather return to a more traditional Winter pattern. It's good for everyone and everything! We just had another respectable delivery of fluffy white gold last night, and more is on the way. Thanks, El Nino! Yep, it’s shaping up pretty good so far. Enjoy!