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Snowseeing in Tahoe

The most beautiful sight in nature on the move is big waves pounding on a rocky shore. It’s one of the sights of Santa Cruz, whenever the Pacific works up a swell.

Highways encircle Lake Tahoe, often right by the water's edge. Just off Nevada Route 28 on the northeast corner of the lake.

The most beautiful sight in nature standing still is deep fresh snow on rocks and trees. It’s a sight I see rarely.

Ploughed snow was everywhere, including the motel forecourt. It is about ten foot high here, between the motel sign and reception.

With this in mind, I had been watching the weather forecast for South Lake Tahoe all week. All week long, the forecasters promised sun in Tahoe on Sunday. I had finished an M&A deal on Friday, which always brings a good feeling of liberation, the boys were with their mother for the weekend, and a little snow tourism seemed like the ideal break. I waited to decide until Saturday morning, but when Caltrans announced on their web site that US route 50 was clear across the Sierra Nevada from Sacramento to South Lake Tahoe, no chains required, it only took me half an hour to pack and go.

“Snowseeing” is sightseeing when the sight is the snow.

View from the Heavenly observation deck, a little below the top of the Gondola. A glimpse of why people pay $32 for one trip up and down the mountain without skis. This is where Daphné lives for, and I'm beginning to see why.

I had no plans to ski, not even cross-country, but it had been raining all week in Santa Cruz, and snowing all week at Tahoe. Depending on which weather report I read, there were two or three feet of fresh powder.

A change is as good as a rest, and this change would be mile after mile of undisturbed deep snow.

I arrived at dusk on Saturday, found a motel room on Lake Tahoe Boulevard just down the street from the casinos across the Nevada state line, and went straight to a pub called MacDuff’s recommended by the desk clerk at the motel. They served a Sunday breakfast that was a classic British breakfast, complete with beans, grilled tomatoes, fried bread, bacon, sausages, eggs. Not forgetting English beer!

Looking down on South Lake Tahoe's casinos. This photo was taken from the gondola itself. It shows (mostly) the Nevada side of South Lake Tahoe. The casinos are in the bottom left corner of the photo. Can you figure out where the State line is located?

The morning sun got me up early the next morning, and I made it on the first city bus to the Heavenly Gondola, which left the motel at 8.53 am. I’d never taken the Heavenly Gondola, the main ride up to Heavenly Valley, one of the most beautiful US ski resorts. Today was the day!

The other side of snow did manage to make itself felt before I took the morning shuttle. It was 14 degrees when I left the room for breakfast, and the slush from the trip on the underside of the car was frozen solid. It ground its way along the ice of the motel parking lot before cracking off with two loud bangs. I crossed my fingers and hoped that there would be no lasting damage. I’m still hoping! I had checked the car antifreeze, and it was good to 0 degrees Fahrenheit, but forgot the windshield wiper fluid, which remained frozen until right around Auburn on the way back home.

The dogs with their sled at Squaw Creek. I'm at the back there, but this is all about the dogs! It was so obvious that they just loved what they were doing. Snow White is front right, one of the two lead dogs, and she did it all just right. At one point Brian cried out an abrupt "ha!" and without breaking stride Snow White turned sharp left and led the seven other dogs with her. I asked him: "what does 'ha' mean." "Turn left," he replied!

It was heaven up there at the top of the Gondola: the snow was crisp and clean and deep, and there was not a cloud in the sky. Way to go, weather forecasters!! I walked around for two hours where the resort’s snow-cats had packed the snow, alone in the silence much of the time, and my eyes feasted in the bright white glare of mountains at their most beautiful.

I walked through the Resort at Squaw Creek to get to the dog sleds. Here is part of the lounge. Talk about a panoramic view! All this fresh snow in a ski resort made for scenes from a movie wherever you looked.

There weren’t even a lot of people on the slopes: perhaps the temperatures were too low, perhaps the weather had been so bad that week-enders had been discouraged. They all missed something special at Heavenly.

In a couple of hours I was on the move again, following the guidance of a ski instructor on the gondola ride up.

He had told me that there were dog sled rides now available at the Squaw Creek Resort. Caltrans again told me that there were no chains required for this next stage of the journey up the east side of the lake, and off I drove to Squaw Valley. The Emerald Bay highway was closed, up the west side of the lake, because of the risk of avalanches.

Summer cabins half buried on the hillside.

Here is the company that offers these dog sled tours: http://www.tahoedogsledtours.com/. It was a lovely ride, easy and comfortable, criss-crossing the meadows which make up Squaw Valley. Plus I learned something. Did you ever ask yourself how dogs crap when they’re all pulling a sled in unison? Yep, learned that!

The guy who drove my sled, whose name was Brian, is the company’s founder. He discovered dog sleds as a hobby when he was a 23 year-old carpenter from Santa Cruz.  He now has 94 dogs and a solid business. Not forgetting his wife and two children, 9 and 13, in a ranch on 20 acres. Not a bad lifestyle!

I even managed to find a train on the way back home. This freight was waiting just outside Truckee station for the east-bound Amtrak train for Chicago (already late, of course) to arrive and free up the single track line west and up over the Sierra Nevada, across Donner Summit.

His carpentry skills come in handy: they help him build the kennels on the back of his truck which he uses to transport the dogs to and from their work. They helped him build the kennels on his ranch where the dogs all live. They helped him build his home, where he and his wife and children live. His is an inspirational story about making a living and building a business out of what you love to do.

So that was it: a short weekend communing with nature at its most beautiful. I came home reinvigorated and full of the joys of spring, despite the four hours of heavy freeway traffic on the drive back. “Such a lovely place,” as the Eagles sang, is Hotel California.

Another view at the water's edge.