Endless winter: Remote spot by Carson Pass has offered turns into late September | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Endless winter: Remote spot by Carson Pass has offered turns into late September

When Jere Crawford and Jeff Stowell carved out their existence on the Pro Mogul Tour in the late 1980s and early 1990s, they couldn’t spend the offseason training in Chile or New Zealand. They couldn’t even get to the glaciers of the Pacific Northwest.

They could, however, head 25 miles south of Lake Tahoe toward the lingering snow fields near Carson Pass. It was there, amongst a natural amphitheater of granite ridges and emerald-stained hillsides, that Crawford and Stowell built a mogul course and started what remains an offseason option for local skiers and snowboarders.

Nearly 20 years later, that same location has become affectionately known as, simply, “The Patch.”

“We couldn’t afford to go to summer camps,” said Crawford, now the head coach of the Heavenly Ski and Snowboard Foundation freestyle team. “We had full-time jobs with only a couple days off a week. We’d work at night and train during the day at The Patch. One year, I got 50 days out there. And a lot times we’d be the only ones out there.”

Except, of course, for the guys with guns.

Before there was a Starbucks with $5 lattes and a 19th-floor bar at Harveys serving $12 martinis, South Lake Tahoe was a littler rougher around the edges. And Carson Pass certainly had more of a Wild West feel to it.

As Crawford and Stowell practiced their back flips, grisly men with rifles combed the valley below, looking for deer. Oftentimes the hunters – fingers close to their triggers – stared at the shaggy-haired ski bums who just wanted to ski all afternoon and get back to town for their evening work shift.

“They were probably wondering what the hell we were doing there in August,” Stowell said. “They just kind of scratched their heads at us. They weren’t really sure what to make of us.”

Nowadays, things are tamer.

Earlier this month, three South Lake Tahoe snowboarders made their annual pilgrimage to The Patch. As they did their thing – improvising with jibs such as a log slide and a rock gap – at least 10 cars passed by on the dirt road that snakes its way up a canyon that’s situated more than 8,000 feet above sea level.

“A lot of guys have already gone up to Mount Hood, but there are still some guys who still want to go out there,” said 24-year-old Brian Connole of South Lake Tahoe. “There’s also a big party each year that some guys throw to kick off the summer.”

During big snow years – and/or colder than normal than summers – Crawford and Stowell pounded the bumps through September – sometimes even until October when the first major winter storm of the next season slammed into the Sierra Nevada.

One summer, Stowell remembers 20-foot snow drifts in August. Other summers, such as this one, the snow was pretty much gone by July. But while 8,000 feet isn’t exceptionally high for summer skiing and riding, The Patch is a product of its own geography.

The area is blessed with more than 500 inches of snow annually. But because of its tunnel-like shape, The Patch collects several more feet of wind-deposited snow that holds up longer due to its north-facing aspects.

It all adds up to a unique combination of snow and sun each summer. And it’s precisely this special blend that produced the fingers of snow that attracted Stowell two decades ago.

Before he and Crawford built their mogul course, Stowell had heard stories of a secret patch from old timers in the skiing community. He was never given specifics, and he’d like to believe he was one of the first to cultivate the area for skiing purposes.

But that dream was squashed fairly quickly.

“Once I got up there, I saw a ski nailed to a tree, and it was an old ski that was obviously put up there by someone poaching long before me,” said the 44-year-old Stowell, a former freestyle coach at Sierra-at-Tahoe. “There are a lot of patches up there, but the area you’re talking about is becoming more popular because it’s so close to the road.

“It was pretty much us out there until about 1994 or 1995, then all the snowboarders started going out there. We got into some altercations. By 1997, I stopped going out there. But as long as there is snow, somebody is going to chase it.”

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