Lake Tahoe Winter

Photo: Jeff Dow

Slush, crust, powder, ice, and crud! What are they? Ingredients? Not exactly,but close.They are textures of snow.They are names of the different kinds of snow. And though snow is a gentle white heaven, it behooves you to  know what kind of snow you are on if you are planning to play on the majestic Sierra Nevada  mountains of Lake Tahoe. For all you dreamers, be prepared because you will be skiing on sacred mountains, belonging to a truly original, unequalled environment. They come with their great adventure, challenges, and legacy.

What is snow? We know they are beautiful flakes, no two alike in the universe.
A little science before we boot up and choose our trails. Snow is often thought of as frozen water. It’s much more intricate. One snowflake consists of up to 100 snow crystals clumped together. When they are connected, they look puffy, somewhat like small cotton balls. I was once told that if I knew what kind of surface I was on, I could get down any mountain. Sometimes, you do find yourself on the wrong trail. After the panorama and panic, stop and check your snow. This is the only lesson I impart. Then you can read about the trails, restaurants, casinos, bars, and all the nightlife you will need.

Powder is the superior snow surface for all snow lovers.  You are quite safe skiing in deep powder because it slows you down, and if you go down,it’s gentle..It’s also the best for snow angels just for fun. Downside, it may cover rock, tree stumps, and crevices, so as my dad always said, “stay alert.”

Crud has a bad reputation, but it’s simply packed down powder making it more uneven. Crust is formed when the sun and wind melt the top layer of powder, and then the cold air temperature makes it freeze into solid again. It can get nasty, and it’s all about edges while riding over those icy patches. It’s challenging and requires aggressive skiiling or boarding. Be bold.

Slush is caused by warming temperatures melting the snow into a watery mess. Wet snow is heavy to traverse so you will notice how the turns in slush are harder than on softer snow. It’s tiring because there is so much resistance to a smooth ride. If snow is perfect, then ice is imperfect. It is hated by boarders and skiers alike. It’s called ice though it’s not true ice. Suffice it to say, it hurts like ice, and it’s very fast like ice. If you can keep your edge, you will maximize your grip, thus preventing injury.
Always go towards snow to slow you down. Remember this.

Snow lovers  are always in a hurry to meet the first snow. By fall, they are already checking out the resorts, some of which do have good snow already.They will find a variety of surfaces suited to snowshoeing,and telemark skiing.

For the uninitiated, telemark skiing or free heel skiing, is fluid and dynamic. It employs modern equipment, similar to downhill skiing - short, waisted skis, stiff plastic boots, and beefy, rigid-metal bindings. As a skier wedges the leading ski forward and the trailing ski slightly backward, with the heel raised off the rear ski, the mechanics of the equipment and the turn combine to produce an endorphin-fueled high: the free-heel feeling. A skiing high!

It's a classy, infectious act that is hard to resist, mainly because it is beautiful to watch. It's a soulful, skin-tingling groove with the exact feeling hard to describe; yet it consumes so many. The sensation of longboard surfing has been used to describe the sensation of telemarking.

With 4,800 acres, Heavenly Ski Resort is the largest resort in California. Heavenly is also on Lake Tahoe's highest summit at 10,067 feet. There are 91 ski trails at Heavenly and 29 lifts. Having 380 inches of average annual snowfall and 300 days of California sunshine, Heavenly is one of the most popular ski resorts in the US. This is one of many ski resorts. Along with Heavenly, are Squaw Valley, Kirkwood, Northstar-at-Tahoe and Alpine Meadows. The second tier includes Sierra-at-Tahoe, Mt. Rose-Ski Tahoe, Sugar Bowl, Homewood and Diamond Peak. Everyone says a visit to Sugar Bowl is a pilgrimage worth making.There’s also Homewood, where the locals hang and enjoy the homey ski runs.

It’s time for food. It’s always good to speak to locals about food. They generally will share their favorite places, off the beaten track. Locals are a superb source of information, and the locals that live at Lake Tahoe are proud and yet protective of their place on the planet. Still, they will be generous. They have read the history, know the landmarks, and even the myths. Poke around and acquaint yourself. Do some sleuthing.

Dining options abound in North Lake Tahoe. Whatever kind of dining you enjoy, casual to more formal, you will have a plethora of places to dine.Fine to funky, there is food for all. Jake’s on the Lake serves up award-winning seafood, the Lone Eagle Grille offers the best of High Sierra cuisine. Moody’s in Truckee is legendary, and Plump Jack Cafe in Squaw Valley is excellent.

There is great respect for the mountain culture which embodies Tahoe’s creative and entrepreneurial spirit. It is worth acknowledging while there. North Lake Tahoe has undergone several transformations, housed and cared for pioneers and western bound settlers, and hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics. History sleeps in every snowdrift until awakened by one of you. It’s hiding, but you can find it. If you are curious, you will see why Lake Tahoe is unquestionably one of our country’s top historic sites.

“I heard a shout from Johnny, and looking up I saw that my fire was galloping all over the premises! Johnny was on the other side of it. He had to run through the flames to get to the lake shore, and then we stood helpless and watched the devastation. It’s written by an icon, any guesses? They are the words of Mark Twain, from ”Roughing It.” Twain’s love of Tahoe is well documented. He went west to avoid the Civil War.

The attractiveness of Lake Tahoe is that it is composed of 625 trails.This translates into offering many levels of challenges for  snowboarding and skiing. This choice means that you have the pleasure of skiing a your level, but on different trails. You won’t get it all done.

In addition, trails which are reserves for hiking and mountain biking, when snowed on, are now available for cross country skiers. My first experience with snow was, of course, my favorite sled, pulled by my brother at rapid speed and sharp turns for a 4 year old. You might want to reconnect with that initial thrill of going down a hill. This time, take a sled, start at the very top and ride it long on your chosen hill. A hill that would have scared you as a child, and now calls for you as an adult.

In 1960 after a lengthy battle for  between California and Innsbruck, to host the Olympics, the VIII Winter Olympic Games were held in Squaw Valley. People declared it ridiculous that Lake Tahoe could mount such an international event. But, they won the bid, and displayed to the world the ultimate proof of rough terrain for Alpine skiing.

The olympic games were played against the backdrop of the cold war. We were at the height of the Cold War, with the whole world watching, when the US defeated the Russian Hockey Team in a heart pounding, down to the last second, 3-2 victory.

There are many world visitors to Lake Tahoe. Some are pleasure seekers, others are some of our foremost scientists. They journey to this area of greatness. Lake Tahoe is a gorgeous result of a cataclysmic volcanic and glacial master plan. They visit this unparalleled place to understand its incredible blueness and to protect our nation’s precious icon of pure alpine perfection.

As you ride the shining magnificent chairlifts and gondolas, remember the extraordinary men and women who built these ski areas and trained hundreds of skiers, starting with the rope tow,
not unlike the one I shakily held onto at 10 years old. I am certain that any of you who skis the famous trails, will nod gently to the pioneers with big dreams, who created the ski areas  with hard work and unshakable faith, in the lure of the mountains they loved so dearly.

You go and find your mountain. And mark it with joy.


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