El Nino’s bring a high likelihood of excellent snow conditions to the Lake Tahoe region. Unfortunately, this year refused to conform to this rule. It happens with climate, I’m afraid.It was not a great Tahoe snow year.
And technically, we started skiing in Nevada at Mt Rose, Reno’s local ski hill that towers above the Nevada desert and casino skyline from downtown, and is a mere 25 minute drive from town. Despite the iffy conditions, we expected reasonable crowds on a Saturday, but it seemed more people were there for the lunchtime Brewfest and bands than skiing. This suited us just fine.
We started by skiing the sunny backside’s groomers, and as the snow softened, the big wide open Western-style glades became fun. Mid morning we hit the steep-ish groomers on the front side, which held good snow all day despite the heat. And in early afternoon, the fabulous Chutes softened – a collection of steep, narrow, bumpy, and this year, slightly rocky lines that rapidly raised adrenalin levels. I’d love to hit this mountain on a mid-winter day with mid winter conditions, it’s a relatively undiscovered gem. And those Chutes are epic!
Next stop was Squaw Valley. Luckily the altitude gave us some decent snow conditions up high, despite some downright Springy temperatures. Highlights were the terrain off the Granite Chief chair, and the short hike-to steeps on Headwall and North Face. We also had a day at Alpine Meadows, where morning groomers gave way to an afternoon of slushy, delightful bump skiing. Overall we scored 3 pretty good ski days, with Mother Nature intervening on Sunday with high winds to restrict open runs to a handful.
It was Squaw, but not as it can be, with roughly 2/3rds of the mountain closed. The bonus was there was absolutely no people there. I doubt Squaw is going to be open much longer this season without serious dumpage.
The trick with these freeze-thaw ski conditions is to be in the right place at the right time as the sun transforms hardpack and ice to creamy and corny goodness. This is of course more difficult at a mountain you’ve never been to, and we discovered this starkly at Kirkwood, our next stop, as we traversed in to the Wall at 11.30am on our first day. Death slides were likely of you lost an edge. The next two days we observed the Wall lift didn’t even open until after 11am. Ah well, you live, survive and learn!
Kirkwood is a mountain that begs exploration, and even with such a low snow pack, there was still lots of the excitement available from Kirkwood’s renowned expert terrain. When the Wall softened, mid afternoon or so, the lines straight down were excellent, and traversing into Wagon Wheel Bowl gave us a few tastes of the fingers of snow through the rock bands that would be so amazing on a decent year. The steep groomer down Sentinel Bowl was a good place to lap while the mountain became skiable, and the back side dealt up soft, ice cream-like bumps earl;y afternoon before it got too hot and sloppy.
The mountain felt deserted, even on the Saturday we skied. Despite the new-ish ‘resort’ development, Kirkwood retains a dirtbag feel. A place for serious riding and partying. Maybe one day we’ll be there when both are available in abundance. Maybe …
Mt Rose 8500m vert
Squaw/Alpine 4800m, 7100m, 7800m, 10100m vert
Kirkwood 5800m, 8900m, 7000m vert
Season totals: 47 days, 368,600m vert, 12 powder days