Skiing and Snowshoeing
There’s far more land surrounding Tahoe that’s available for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing than there is for downhill sports. In fact, Tahoe is something like heaven for strong-legged snow lovers of all types. It’s hard to go more than five miles without tripping over a snowshoe trail or a cross-country track.
The granddaddy of Tahoe cross-country ski areas, the Royal Gorge Cross Country Ski Resort (Summit Station, Soda Springs, 800/500-3871, www.royalgorge.com, daily 9 a.m.–5 p.m., adults $15–29, youth 13–17 $15–16, children under 12 free) has a truly tremendous chunk of the Sierras within its boundaries. Striving to provide a luxurious ski experience comparable to what downhillers expect, the Royal Gorge offers lodgings, food, drink, a ski school, equipment rentals, equipment care facilities and services, and much more.
Expect more than 185 miles of groomed trails, all with two stride tracks and a skate track to allow easy passing. Royal Gorge even offers four surface lifts for skiers who’d like to rest for a few minutes while getting from one area to another.
Another option is to start out at the Soda Springs downhill ski resort gondola and spend the day exploring the Van Norden Track System, which connects down to the Summit Station.
The Royal Gorge Summit Station is the central Lodge for Royal Gorge. However, you’ll also find four restaurants, two overnight lodges, and eight warming huts dotting the cross-country wonderland. Do be sure to grab a map before you head out for the day. Patches of mountains are off limits due to avalanche danger, and it’s best to know where they are before you get deep into your cross-country ski adventure.
North Shore regulars say that Tahoe Donner Cross Country (15275 Alder Creek Rd., 530/587-9484, www.tdxc.com, adults $13–22, children under 12 free) offers some of the better cross-country skiing action in the area. It’s true that Donner has a separate day lodge just for cross-country skiers, and another restaurant halfway up the mountain, the Euer Valley Cookhouse. It’s also got almost 5,000 acres crisscrossed with trails ranging from easy greens all the way up through double-black diamonds. A cross-country ski school teaches newcomers to the sport and helps more experienced skiers expand their skills. This is more of a cross-country paradise than a big snowshoe area, and you’ll find only two snowshoe-only trails at Donner.
If you’re up for some cross-country skiing on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe, check out the Spooner Lake (Hwy. 28, 0.5 mile from Hwy. 50, 775/749-5349, www.spoonerlake.com, adults $10–21, teens $10, children under 12 free) cross-country and snowshoe resort. You can stride and glide by two small lakes in this region: Spooner and Marlette. Less experienced and more sedate skiers tend to stick to the well-groomed easy and moderate trails near Spooner Lake, Spooner Meadow, and the Lodge.
The buns-and-thighs of steel crowd can head up North Canyone to Saints Rests beside Marlette Lake, or go all out and circle the aptly named Big Loop—a 21-mile advanced monster that will definitely give you a full day’s workout. All cross-country ski trails at Spooner are snowshoe-accessible (be courteous by staying on the outside edges), and the resort maintains narrow marked snowshoe-only trails throughout the area. If you’d like to stay right at Spooner Lake, inquire about rental cabins, which are available year-round.
Many cross-country skiers and snowshoers eschew the groomed and crowded resorts for more virgin territory. At Tahoe, a number of cross-country trails that really do cross some country are maintained by the Forest Service. Some of these trails offer short, single-day excursions, while others go miles back into the ominously named Desolation Wilderness and appeal to hardcore ski-campers who want a multi-day adventure.
Beginner explorers can have the safest fun at Taylor Creek (just north of Camp Richardson, Hwy. 89), an uncongested but reasonably populous area with many flat, marked trails to help newcomers get the feel for the forest. Lots of trails for skiers of all levels range out along the South Shore and the West Shore of Lake Tahoe. If you’re planning to camp in Desolation Wilderness, the most popular trailhead first takes you past Echo Lakes (Hwy. 50 at Echo Lake Rd.) and then on into the backcountry along the Pacific Crest Trail.
A $5 Sno-Park parking pass is required for many forest ski trailheads, and can be purchased at places like Longs Drugs at the South Shore Y and the Chevron in Meyers. Folks planning overnight ski-camping trips must first get a wilderness permit from the El Dorado Information Center in Camino on Highway 50. While snow conditions are generally best in the mornings, nighttime “moonlight skiing” is allowed and even encouraged in some areas.
© Liz Hamill Scott from Moon California, 2nd Edition