LAKE TAHOE — The winter solstice is just a few days away, yet fall is still holding on with dry, cold weather and ever-shortening days. Snow, or the lack thereof, is all the talk of the town. Despite the limited skiing opportunities, Basinites are still getting out of doors and having fun.
We all know that Tahoe is a skiing community and that skiing is what many people living here would prefer to do when it’s cold. But, as is evident by the barren mountains ringing the Lake, cold weather does not equal good skiing. However, when it’s consistently dry and cold there are a few outdoor sports that are provided the perfect conditions. Alpine ice-skaters and ice climbers thrive on solid, snow-free frozen water — and that’s just what we have in the area right now.
Ice in Tahoe is as fickle as 2 percent blower pow. It just doesn’t last that long because of the consistent sunny, moderate weather for which the Sierra is famous. That doesn’t mean that it never forms. On the contrary, if the conversations that I have heard amongst the climbing community as of late are any indicator, the hunt for solid ice is on and people are finding success.
Moreover, high altitude, frozen mountain lakes are in abundance and they are free of snow. This is perfect for the skater looking for adventure in the mountains. Recently, I was out climbing and skiing on Round Top and the even, polished-looking ice on Lake Winnemucca beckoned me to ditch the heavy pack and don hockey skates for some figure eights. If only I had a pair handy.
On the other hand, for many, bushwhacking around in the northern shadow of a peak with the hope for some good ice is less than appealing. For those of us who fall into this category, there is a lot to do off the hill. It has been quite entertaining, and informative, to watch my friends and co-workers plan for their weekends by looking for warm weather at lower elevations. Many people are riding motorcycles out in the Nevada desert, while others head to Santa Cruz and Auburn for some muscle-powered cycling. Still others have headed to Bishop, J-Tree, Red Rocks and down the west slope to Sonora for some rock climbing on these short, sunny days.
As for myself, fall recreation has been a mixed bag. I have skied without much excitement — the white ribbon runs at a few of the local resorts. Deliberately sticking to sunny aspects, I have climbed alpine rock on the Wheeler Crest outside of Bishop and on the golden crags of Woodfords Canyon. And, I have sought out moderate snow and ice climbs when the notion struck me.
In the past I have written that Tahoe’s central location is a great launching point for travel into the larger mountains to the south, the volcanic range to the north and out into the deserts to the east. Shoulder seasons illustrate this fact most clearly because the conditions in the Basin are often less than ideal for skiing, biking or climbing. In these times we see our friends and neighbors head out of town each weekend for a bit of adventure and better conditions — whatever those may be for your chosen sport.
So don’t fret Tahoe — it will snow. In the mean time, make the best of the local conditions. The other option is to put a call into that friend down the hill and see if his couch is unoccupied for your next weekend trip to warmer weather. So here’s to ice, travel and the winter to come. It a journey after all, not a destination. I for one am enjoying the ride.
— Nick Miley is a freelance writer living in South Lake Tahoe. He spends his free time exploring the Sierra Nevada, learning its history and writing about his experiences. You can contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more at tahoepulp.wordpress.com