Ski with a Ranger guides will conduct tours in both Spanish and English for the first time in the program's history.
South Shore visitors and locals have skied with U.S. Forest Service rangers at Heavenly on and off for more than 30 years to learn about Tahoe's natural and cultural history while making turns on the slopes, but the organization didn't offer a Spanish-language option until this season.
According to LTBMU Conservation Education Assistant Megan Dee, the Spanish tours are geared toward both locals and visitors. The U.S. Census found that more than 31 percent of South Lake Tahoe residents in 2010 identified themselves as Latino, while tourists from Mexico and other parts of Latin America make up one of the largest groups visiting Heavenly, Dee said.
"I think part of my job has to do with involving those demographics in these programs," Dee said. "Hopefully we can spark some local interest."
Dee and her co-worker Adrian Escobedo, the LTBMU civil rights officer, lead the Spanish-language tours once a month. The first one of the season took off on Feb. 13 and the next one is set for March 13. Dee said they'll guide one additional tour on March 27 to coincide with Heavenly's "Latin Ski Week," which starts at the end of the month. The Spanish-language tours will wrap up on April 10.
Heavenly's website has a section on the Entertainment and Events Calendar dedicated to the LTBMU program and translated into Spanish. There's another page, also in Spanish, devoted to the resort's Semana Santa festivities and activities.
Dee said she hopes that the resort's marketing will help the Forest Service continue the Spanish program next year. Only one person showed up for the guided event in February - it's hard to attract people who don't know about the tours and the first-come, first-serve style can be limiting, Dee said - but the interest is there. A group of Ecuadorians heard the February tour conducted in Spanish and said they wished they'd heard about the program earlier, according to Dee.
Ski with a Ranger began in the late 1970s as a way to explain the relationship between the Forest Service, the resort - which operates on public lands with a special use permit - and other regional agencies. Participants learn about the mission and role of the LTBMU in ski area management, natural resource processes and issues and how to be environmental stewards, according to a Forest Service press release.
The current Ski with a Ranger structure, where guests meet with LTBMU guides at the top of the gondola twice-daily every Monday and Friday if the weather permits, started five years ago.
Forest Service volunteers Emily Matthews and Jenna Hooper led a group of seven guests last week on a tour that addressed watershed restoration, water quality improvement and fuels reduction among other South Shore issues.
Ski with a Ranger participant Michael Sexton of Novato, Calif., said it was one of the top ranger-lead tours he'd been on.
"Our ranger guides, Jenna and Emily, were fun and very well informed about the ecosystem and the history of the Tahoe Basin and the lovely mountains we enjoy. I have taken many ranger-guided tours over the last 30 years and this ranks among the best. I had fun and learned much about the ecosystem and the ways we can help maintain the incredible environment we are blessed with," Sexton said.