Tahoe Ski Bum column: Do we have too many visitors in town? (opinion)
March 2, 2019
Many have commented on the number of people visiting Tahoe. Here are some reasons why I believe we're seeing an increase in visitors to Tahoe during the winter.
1. From the Colorado Sun: Vail Resorts' chief Rob Katz on Friday told investors that he expected to sell 925,000 Epic Passes for the 2018-19 ski season, which includes about 100,000 deeply discounted $99 military passes.
2. From Bloomberg News: "Vail unapologetically sees the smaller ski areas outside the West as feeder resorts, knowing that when those enthusiasts take a trip, they'll most likely travel to one of the other Vail mountains where they can use their Epic pass. While there, they'll pay dearly for everything from Vail lodging to on-mountain burgers, which cost about $21."
With an almost unlimited (until now) growth in accommodations that, like a ski pass, are a great deal, and the advent of online rental companies like AirBnB, VRBO, HomeToGo and the many other companies that are registered in Tahoe, you can see there is an almost unlimited source for the influx of tourists.
Add to the mix the traffic apps guiding hundreds of thousands of tourists, not only to Tahoe's attractions but our neighborhoods as well.
Have we overloaded ourselves with tourism? Absolutely we have. So what do we do when most of our economy is based on tourism and most of us up here make our livelihood on tourism?
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First thing we need to do is knock tourism back a bit and get over the myth that if we do anything to the tourism gods they will go somewhere else. Maybe that might be a good thing. No matter what we do to them they still come, despite crappy service, $21 burgers, yelling at them, cutting them off in traffic, a 14-hour drive to town, high gas prices, high food prices … the list is endless.
Can our infrastructure handle this? Can we supply enough workers to handle the influx? Can we have the best of both worlds for the residents who call this place home? The answer is "yes." We can do that, but only if we make radical adjustments to the way we handle tourism in our community.
I don't believe we have hit our maximum amount of tourists that we can handle. But we have spread them out into our neighborhoods so they can "live like a local" at the expense of our residents. After living up here for 41 years and having been in the restaurant and construction business, I see both sides of the problem.
Remember when we were tourists back in the day and we slowly became locals, then we became residents and we were able to live here and make a decent living? Too broke to stay and too broke to leave, poverty with a view and a host of other sayings about the lifestyle we chose.
I also remember when the traffic was just as bad and the amount of tourists was just as many. The one thing that has changed is they have left U.S. 50 and have invaded our neighborhoods. That must stop. We need to get them out of our neighborhoods and back into the tourist corridor as was always intended. We will never increase our highway infrastructure, never build a tunnel under the summit, never have "locals only" lanes, and we'll never have a toll to get in the basin.
Two things and two things only need to happen. The first is going to rub a small section of our community completely the wrong way, but if we are to get our community back we need to move forward with this.
First: Get the mini motels and hotels out of our neighborhoods and back into the tourist corridors where they belong and this includes Meyers. We can coexist with VHRs in some neighborhoods, but there has to be a limit and a stop to the unregulated growth that has transformed what used to be a mom-and-pop adventure for a few extra bucks, to an industry where one person or company owns several and we are inundated with commercial motels in residential neighborhoods.
Second: Keep the traffic on U.S. 50 and out of our neighborhoods. We all know that a few years ago we had traffic in Tahoe on Sundays and holidays leaving the basin, but they were all gone by 6 p.m. and we locals had our shortcuts to get home. With the advent of the traffic apps, the traffic is now backed up for 10-12 hours and that includes five to six hours in the neighborhoods from tourists trying to save one minute of time in a traffic backup.
For every one minute of backup, you can add three minutes of travel time to the exodus. U.S. 50 can handle, on a clear day, 1,200 cars an hour over the summit. Throw in an accident or two along with the merging traffic onto U.S. 50 from all the shortcut streets, and you have a problem.
The traffic backup actually begins at the two-lane section by Sierra-at-Tahoe and is compounded by the two-lane section at the summit. People leaving the basin race like hell in those two lanes then fight each other trying to merge back into one lane, which, as we all know, is not allowed by anyone merging back in. "I will be damned if you are going to get in front of me."
So what to do? First, eliminate the traffic apps. We believe we have found a legal way to do this by implementing and enforcing a current law with concerns to electronic road closures.
Second, we cone off the two-lane sections of roadway and create one lane only on Sundays and holidays. This idea has been discussed by Caltrans and the California Highway Patrol, but as we all know it takes money and the manpower (personpower for those offended) to do this.
A few weeks ago, Caltrans closed North Upper Truckee for safety reasons and they paid the CHP to be there and guess what? It worked.
We have the ability to recreate our own paradise and get our community back once again to enjoy and coexist.
Kenny Skibum Curtzwiler has been in South Lake Tahoe since the '70s and he knows "where the bodies are buried." Reach him at skibumfamily @charter.net.
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