Finding a Crowd-Free Tahoe: Ride the Tahoe Queen to good times
In this town there are some things that are considered local to-dos and then there are other things that are considered tourist activities. It’s not that people living here don’t want to go for a helicopter ride or parasailing, or even take a mellow drive around the lake, it’s just that in the cost-benefit analysis these experiences don’t seem to be worth the time and money. Let me just say that I have been of this mindset. Yet, there are some unique experiences to be had in the Tahoe area that are placed in this category that are well worth the time and money spent. Taking a scenic cruise around the lake is one.
Last Thursday, a friend and I rode the Tahoe Queen – you know, the seemingly ubiquitous Mississippi river paddle boat that makes its home in Ski Run Marina – from South Lake to the North Shore on their recently reinstated ski shuttle to Northstar California. For too long I have heard tell of the rocking parties that take place on this amply sized, triple decked cruiser and I’d always wanted to partake.
I was not disappointed.
Waking up to an alarm at 6:30 a.m. on my day off was agonizing. But, like always, once I caught sight of the sun rising over the eastern rim of the basin and the soft pink that it painted on the Lake’s inky water, the desire to go back to sleep instantly evaporated. See, I’m always looking out at the lake from the shore, and that view is limited. The intricate details of the shoreline fade into one another and the peaks draw away my attention. Out in the middle of the Lake, elevated off its surface, I was able to take in every bay and point. It was a whole new perspective on where we live that too many residents (and visitors) forgo.
The trip down the length of the Lake on an old paddle wheeler takes about 21⁄2 hours. We spent that time sipping coffee, absorbing the ever changing views, and talking to the other people milling around the boat. It’s always funny meeting new friends first thing in the morning. Everyone is a bit gruff and withdrawn by sleep’s lingering grip. This is just the way it is with these types of trips. Despite this impediment, I met several people from New Jersey who are members of the Fall Line Ski Club that travels around the country and abroad skiing and partying. I knew right away that these folks were here to get down and have some fun.
Aside from the glorious view afforded on both the sunrise and sunset legs of our voyage, one thing stood out: every employee from the Queen’s bartenders to the lifties at Northstar were incredibly nice. I don’t mean nice like “my boss told me to smile and say hello,” but nice like they really enjoyed their jobs and the company of their patrons.
As all the nylon clad guests unloaded their gear onto the Hyatt Regency’s pier in Incline Village, the Chief Engineer wished us all a great day skiing. The crew stood on deck waving good-buy and reality was transformed into a postcard moment. Many pictures were snapped. From there it was a short shuttle ride to Northstar.
I have only ridden my bike in the summer at Northstar, so I was excited to explore the mountain in winter. I was amazed by the investments in infrastructure that this resort has made; from the village to the snow cannons lining the runs, they spared absolutely no expense as far as I could tell. Northstar is the kind of resort that employs snowboarders to ski patrol, and skiing around this mountain was like being in a modern jib movie. From the monster rails and kickers to the immaculately carved superpipe for Shaun White (now open to the public!), Northstar is an elite training ground for park rippers of all generations.
However, if the park isn’t your scene it isn’t hard to avoid. Northstar has something for nearly everyone. I found the steep runs leading down to Martis Camp to be just what the doctor order as the lack of crowds allowed me to open ‘er up and really blow my hair back. High fives from lift ops when loading rounded out the experience and made me feel that all were welcome at this high-end mountain resort.
Before long we were loading-up in the shuttle for the ride back to the lake. We walked down the boardwalk to the pier with the sun in the western sky. Through patchy clouds, the light was working its magic on the water. Everyone was elated from a day of skiing in the California sun and there was a buzz about the crowd. You wouldn’t think it, but sharing an experience like skiing from a boat cultivates an air of camaraderie that was palpable as we all lined up at the bar for drinks.
Without going into too much detail, the slow cruise back to the south shore was a party. There was a marvelous sunset, with a DJ spinning a variety of tunes and ski movies to keep you fired up – food and drinks as well. Oh, and did I mention the Jeopardy style game of trivia that we all played with much yelling and laughter from the crowd. As we pulled-in to dock and I took one last look at the beautiful scene, I couldn’t help but think that this is how the lake is every day, I just don’t take enough time to get out on the water and expose myself to its beauty.
Ya know, the Lake is an amazing place and that’s the reason that tourists travel from the far reaches of the globe to be here. It is my hope that the time I spent on the lake last week will serve as a reminder of why we’re all here. So cast aside the jaded sentiments spawned from traffic jams and slow drivers. Get out there people and patronize the things that make Tahoe unique. ‘Til next week, this is Nick Miley signing off with a smile and nod to the Queen and her crew.
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