Mark Twain went on and on about the beauty of Lake Tahoe during his first visit here, but had he toured the mountains on a snowmobile he would have blown a gasket.
“The fairest picture the whole Earth affords” takes on an even greater luster when you’re zooming through the trees, feeling the crisp air kicking underneath your visor. Every turn, every acceleration reveals a different canvas, and the entire show is a thing to behold.
Or let’s put it this way: snowmobiling in the mountains above Tahoe is pretty darn cool. Where else can you be James Bond and Ben Cartwright all in the same hour?
“I’m out here every day, and I never get tired of it,” said Jeff Gambitta, a tour guide with the Zephyr Cove Snowmobile Center. “Whenever I get up into the mountains I’m always struck by how incredibly beautiful it is.
“Things can get hectic or boring down below, but when you get up on the mountain you remember why you’re here.”
The Zephyr Cove outfit, a division of Travel Systems, Limited which operates out of the Zephyr Cove Resort, does a booming business when the snow allows — which is much of the year at 9,000 feet. That’s how high one climbs during a tour in the mountains, in the Spooner Summit area on Tahoe’s east shore.
A typical outing will consist of about 10 people, who cruise through the trees on groomed trails until they reach the highest point on the trail — South Camp Peak. From this vantage point, one can see most of the Tahoe Basin — on a clear day — and truly breath in the reason people call this the most beautiful spot on Earth.
“Directly across from us is Emerald Bay, and you can even see Fallen Leaf Lake over to the left,” said our guide, Director of Mountain Operations Mark Tschirgi. “This seems to be the most popular spot on the entire tour. People are just awestruck when they get up here and see this view.”
The Zephyr Cove Center operates a fleet of about 150 Ski-Doo Bombadeer snowmobiles, none more than two years old. The machines are easy to learn, and afford a freedom and mobility which cannot be found elsewhere — at least in the mountains in winter. The Center will play host to about 1,000 riders on a busy weekend, and had a little more than 34,000 customers last year.
But don’t these machines cause a threat to the environment?
“We’re very mindful of the environment,” said snowmobile manager Chris Burke, who morphs into Zephyr Cove’s Marina manager in the summer. “We’re currently researching ways to incorporate a new fuel-injected model that meets EPA standards, and we will have those in place by the EPA deadline. We replace our snowmobiles every couple of years, anyway.”
As far as damage to the rocks or trees, well, no … the only damage that might occur would be to the rare rider who wanders off the trail and isn’t paying attention.
“We have a saying here,” Tschirgi said. “The trees are undefeated.”
“Our safety record is a lot better than the highway’s,” said Burke, referring to U.S. Highway 50, which runs adjacent to the snowmobile access point at Spooner.
The tour is all on U.S. Forest Service Land, and private snowmobiling is allowed.
“The air up there is very pure and fine, bracing and delicious,” Twain said. He, too, was smitten by Tahoe’s beauty while standing on its peaks. But one can only imagine what he would have said if he could have been home by lunch.
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