Video: “Stuff” skiers say

I’m in Lake Tahoe–California and Nevada’s premier ski destination–visiting my brother and his family. My teenage nephew, a member of the Olympic Valley Freeride & Freestyle Team, turned me on to this farcical video about things skiers say. If you’re a skier–or snowboarder–you’re fully aware that there are certain phrases ubiquitous to those who spend their days on the slopes–even if the language between the two sports differs slightly.

Even if you don’t dig snow, you’ll likely appreciate this. And if you’re a flatlander heading to the mountains for a weekend of shreddin’….please…don’t act like a gaper. “Now go get your sesh on.”

Warning: this clip contains language that may be offensive to some.

Zimride announces new route to Lake Tahoe

Zimride has opened a route to Lake TahoeJust in time for the start of the ski season, ride sharing website Zimride has announced the opening of a new route between San Francisco and Lake Tahoe. To celebrate this new option, they’re also giving away free gas and partnering with local resorts as well.

Launched back in 2008, Zimride is an interesting mash-up of carpooling meets social media. The site allows drivers to sell the empty seats in their cars to passengers who are traveling along the same route, saving everyone some cash in the process. Touting the economic and environmental benefits of ride sharing, the company says that it has helped facilitate more than 26,000 carpools, covering over 100 million miles, at an estimated cumulative savings of $50 million.

The San Francisco to Lake Tahoe route is expected to open on Thanksgiving Day, which is often seen as the unofficial start to the ski season as well. To commemorate the new route, Zimride is giving away a free tank of gas ($40 value) to the first 500 drivers who successfully book the new route between now and the end of the year.

Lake Tahoe has long been considered one of the truly great ski destinations in North America. Nestled high in the Sierra Nevada mountains along the border of California and Nevada, the region is home to more than a dozen resorts, such as Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley. Travelers who stay at either of those resorts, or one of Zimride’s other Lake Tahoe partners, will will also be entitled to discounted lift tickets, VIP parking, and more.

I’ve never personally used Zimride, but it sounds like a great way to not only save a little cash, but also take a road trip with some like minded people. It sounds like fun to share a ride from San Fran to Tahoe for a weekend on the slopes. Considering the price of gas these days, it never hurts to split the costs either.

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10 days, 10 states: Lake Tahoe, California

“…As it lay there with the shadows of the mountains brilliantly photographed upon its surface I thought it must surely be the fairest picture the whole Earth affords…”
-Mark Twain, upon first viewing Lake Tahoe. Excerpted from his book, “Roughing It”

As anyone who has ever spent time in Lake Tahoe can attest to, Mark Twain had Tahoe pegged from the moment he first laid eyes upon it. Once Twain was done waxing philosophical about the clarity of its waters and pristine nature of its shores, however, he would go on to nearly burn the entire place down when his campfire raged out of control and gave rise to a massive forest fire.

Luckily for Mr. Twain, Tahoe managed to survive the blaze, and it continues to be the ultimate playground for outdoor enthusiasts all across the West. If you’ve never paid a visit to this lake the Washoe Indians dubbed “Da-ow-a-ga”, (Big Water) it’s hard to properly describe the sheer magnitude of how big the largest alpine lake in North America really is.

Unlike the Great Lakes, you can, in fact, still see across to the other side. This is aided however by the lake being rung by the 9,000 ft. peaks of the Sierra Nevada that remain at least partially snowcapped for the entire year.

21 miles long by 12 miles wide (193 sq. miles), Lake Tahoe is officially larger than three of the eight main Hawaiian Islands (Kahoolawe, Ni’ihau, and Lana’i). Aside from its area, at 1,645 ft. deep, Lake Tahoe is also the second deepest lake in North America behind Oregon’s Crater Lake.

That’s great. It’s big, and it’s deep. But what exactly does that mean? Give me some perspective. Well to start with, if you were to somehow pull the plug on Lake Tahoe and allow its waters to drain across the valley floor, the volume would be enough to cover the entire state of California to a depth of 15 inches. Think about that. Every Californian, all 37 million of them from San Diego to Humboldt would have their basement sloshing under a foot of water.

%Gallery-138378%So what actually goes on in water that deep? Are there any fish down there? Is there anything down there? Although the lake does house some good sized mackinaw (lake trout) that hang out around 200-250 ft. down, it’s rumored that there is potentially something else that’s floating around at the deepest depths of the lake:

Dead Native American Indians and Chinese railroad workers.

That’s right. It could all be urban legend, but it’s reputed that throughout history there were times when warriors or workers who met an untimely end were simply cast into the frigid lake waters. As the water temperature at the deepest parts of the lake remains a constant 39 degrees Fahrenheit, the waters are sufficiently cold enough to keep human bodies from quickly decomposing.

Creepy depths of the lake aside, Lake Tahoe remains one of the premier spots in the Western US for outdoor recreation on land as well as on the water. During the winter months, Tahoe boasts no fewer than 12 ski resorts that are lauded as some of the best in all of North America, with Squaw Valley playing host to the Winter Olympics in 1960.

During the summer months, Tahoe is rife with outdoor summer adventures that range from standup paddling to mountain biking. The Flume Trail on the east shore of the lake is regarded as being one of the most scenic rides in the entire country, and as the fall foliage currently engulfs the lake basin I find it to be the perfect time of year for getting out and riding the Flume.

From the rampant development that lines the shoreline, however, it’s easy to deduce that the beauty of Tahoe is no longer really a secret. Although the lakeshore may be rung by mega-mansions (Incline Village), lakefront restaurants (the entire West Shore), and glitzy casinos (South Lake Tahoe), there is still one stretch of the lake that is uninterrupted in its rugged and natural beauty.

When George Whittell’s real estate magnate parents passed away and left him with a sizeable inheritance in the late 1920’s, the San Francisco eccentric took a lump sum of cash and purchased the entire east shore of Lake Tahoe. Upon the granite strewn shoreline he constructed his infamous retreat, the Thunderbird Lodge, an architectural wonderland of ornate stonework, hidden tunnels, and cascading man-made waterfalls.

As real estate interests along the lake grew, however, so did interest in acquiring the lands held by Mr. Whittell. In one of the state of Nevada’s landmark cases of eminent domain, the state seized the land from Mr. Whittell that now comprises Sand Harbor State Park. Finally reducing his estate to the 6 acres surrounding the Thunderbird Lodge, the east shore of the lake ended up in the hands of the state of Nevada and has been exquisitely preserved as a state park system that offers some of the best beaches along the entire lake.

It’s just off of these beaches I find myself gliding along on a dull red kayak, completely encircled by granite boulders, turquoise waters, and the yellows and oranges of the fall colors that dance their way down from the treetops. If I didn’t have the rest of the country to go and see, I would be more than content to simply find a patch of sand, read a little Twain, and stare out over one of the great natural wonders of the West.

Follow Kyle on the rest of his journey as he explores “10 days, 10 states, 10 great American sights”.

Summer in the Sierras: 6 Tahoe Adventures for Outdoors Lovers

Anyone with a pair of skis or snowboard pants has probably heard the names: Heavenly. Northstar. Squaw — world-renowned winter resorts that sit on some of the finest powder in North America. Luckily for anyone in need of a 12-month adrenaline fix, it’s the summer months in Lake Tahoe where the outdoor adventures really start to heat up, hence, a list of six Tahoe adventures that will keep the blood pumping until next season’s first snowfall.

1. Mountain Bike the Flume Trail

For anyone who is familiar with the Lake Tahoe basin, the concept of mountain biking during the summer months should come as no surprise. For many, taking two wheels to the steep downhill of the Sierras is a way to fill the adrenaline void that’s created by the closure of the fabled ski runs.

While there are myriad trails that form a complex network of singletrack running throughout the Sierra, none of them are quite as famous or awe-inspiring as the five mile ridgeline that forms the Tahoe Flume Trail. Formed by 19th century lumber workers needing access to the region’s bountiful timber, water flumes were utilized as a way to transport heavy logs down to lumber mills in the Carson Valley. Though loggers no longer dominate the peaks and ridges of Tahoe’s eastern shore, the trails they cut and left behind lay waiting to be explored.

The Flume Trail is a 13-mile, one way ride that can be combined in conjunction with sections of the Tahoe Rim Trail. The trail starts at the 7,000′ elevation at Nevada’s Spooner Lake, and bikes, maps, and equipment are available from Flume Trail Mountain Bikes. The trail begins with a substantial 1,300′ climb to pristine Marlette Lake, its placid waters rung by towering pines. The trail traces the perimeter of Marlette Lake before turning to singletrack on the knife-thin ridgeline that offers sweeping views of 193 sq. mile Lake Tahoe. High above the turquoise waters of Sand Harbor and the oft-photographed boulders that run the length of the lake’s undeveloped eastern shore, it’s nearly impossible to avoid periodic rest stops simply to marvel at the view.

2. Tackle a stand-up “downwinder”

Rapidly gaining momentum as Lake Tahoe’s most popular summertime watersport, the clear, placid waters of this alpine lake provide the perfect theater for a peaceful morning paddle. While much of the stand up action on the lake involves novices who’d prefer to stay close to shore and in calm waters, one of the Tahoe’s true water thrills is navigating a long section of the lake on a stand up paddleboard with the gusty alpine wind blowing at your back.

Though the morning hours in Tahoe can be eerily calm, most afternoons provide ample wind out of the southwest to create 2-4 ft. lake swells that paddleboarders can ride from one point on the lake to another. Popular runs include Dollar Point to Tahoe Vista, or Homewood to Cal-Neva point on the California/Nevada border. While the Lake Tahoe area has an increasingly popular summer race series, the granddaddy distance race on the lake is the Tahoe Fall Classic, a 22-mile paddle marathon that runs the length of the lake every September.

3. Jump off of a mountain

The summertime thrills in Tahoe aren’t exclusively found either on land or in the lake–for some, they even take to the skies. Though there are a fair number of daredevils who engage in dramatic displays of cliff jumping in the deep waters off Rubicon Point, a different set of aerial enthusiasts routinely launch themselves off of lofty mountain peaks that overlook the lake in the ultra-adventurous sport of paragliding.

For anyone across the country who has ever strapped a wing to their back (as the paragliding chutes are known), paragliding Lake Tahoe is one of the most rewarding, challenging experiences that a paraglider can find in the lower 48. While considered to be one of the nation’s most scenic spots to fly, the large amount of air moving over the Sierra crest, mixed with the hot air rising off of the Nevada desert, creates dangerous thermals and pockets of air that can really ruin a paraglider’s day.

4. Hike the Tahoe Rim Trail

While the mountains around Lake Tahoe contain segments of the 2,650 mile Pacific Crest Trail, hikers that don’t have six months to devote to walking the West can opt for a shorter–albeit still lengthy–loop of the lake on the well-maintained and remarkably scenic Tahoe Rim Trail. While many hikers each year take advantage of the campgrounds scattered around the trail and tackle the entire 165-mile loop in a single shot, most mortals opt to spend a long day hiking one of the Rim Trail segments that run in the more manageable 14-25 mile range. Maintained by the Tahoe Rim Trail Association, each year the group organizes 14-day “thru-hikes” for those who want to leave it all behind and spend two solid weeks soaking up the beauty of the Sierra.

5. Surf Lake Tahoe

Yes, you read that right. You can actually surf on Lake Tahoe. Not wakesurf, or standup paddle surf, or even windsurf, but good ol’ fashioned lay down on your chest and stroke into some waves style of surfing. While the strongest storms blow through Tahoe in the frigid winter months, strong summer winds that gust over the ridges of the Sierra on certain days provide waist-chest high waves that any longboarder would be stoked on.

As the prevailing summer winds blow from the south-southwest direction, Tahoe “surf breaks”–ironically just like in Hawaii–are located along the North Shore of the lake, with sandbars from Tahoe Vista to Sand Harbor lighting up with windswell on a strong enough storm. Though early summer snow melt can make lake temperatures warrant wearing a wetsuit through at least the end of July, the combination of warmer late-summer lake temperatures (up to 68 degrees) and an early fall storm is enough to send landlocked surfers up and down the Sierra scrambling to find their favorite board.

6. Ski the backcountry

Once again, yes, you read that right. One of this summer’s most unique outdoor thrills is strapping on the skis and taking to the Tahoe backcountry. With the Tahoe area receiving record amounts of snowfall this past winter (over 800 inches at some resorts), many of the area’s off-piste runs are packing enough of the white stuff that skiers and snowboarders will be able to click into their boots deep into the summer.

For the first time in 18 years, Tahoe ski resorts such as Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows were open for business on the 4th of July, and even through the end of July backcountry areas such as Mt. Rose, Desolation Wilderness, and Mt. Tallac still have enough snow cover to warrant the long hike up. There’s really no telling how far into the summer Tahoe skiers who are frothing for winter will be able to make this record powder last. Fortunately for them, once it’s finally all gone, they’ve got plenty of other summer adventures right outside their doorstep.

Video: Spring backcountry skiing – beware the bears!

It’s no secret that the western U.S. has had its fair share of snow this year. In fact, there has been so much powder that the skiing has continued well into the spring in some locations. Of course, late seasons skiing comes with its own unique perils, as the two skiers in the video below found out recently.

Shot on Mt. Tallac, a 9739-foot peak to the southwest of Lake Tahoe, in late May, the video shows two backcountry skiers out for a few late season runs. But if you watch closely, you’ll see that they ran into more than they had bargained for when the cameraman skis right past a bear.

Having no doubt just awoken from its winter slumber, the groggy bear was likely just as surprised to see the skiers. Fortunately, no one was hurt in this encounter, but I’m sure a few hearts skipped a beat.

Backcountry Surprise! from David Wonser on Vimeo.