It snowed! It snowed!
After a few winters of well below normal snowfall, 2015-16 came through with plenty of the white stuff and the Nordic ski areas around Lake Tahoe returned to full operation. This made a lot of skiers pretty dang excited gliding over the trails that they love. This season, 2016-17, started out fluffy and white, as well, so hopefully the excitement will continue.
Cross-country skiing is easy to learn and an excellent full-body workout. Kids, ages 4 to 90, can do it. It’s a great way to enjoy the boundless snowy bounty of a Tahoe winter while escaping the massive hordes that congregate around the lifts. During much of the winter, if you have your own gear, at most cross-country ski areas, it will take you less than 5 minutes to go from shutting your car door to gliding away from the trailhead. Even during the busiest holiday periods, while the lodge might be busy, out on the trails, a peaceful experience awaits. For the budget conscious, even at the most expensive cross-country ski resorts, trail passes are about a quarter the cost of downhill lift tickets.
The Tahoe-Truckee region provides the greatest concentration of cross-country skiing opportunities in North America with more than 500 kilometers of groomed trails. Most resorts have equipment to rent and also provide access for snowshoeing. Many provide lessons and clinics to improve your skiing technique. A few locations also allow skiers to bring their dogs along on the trails.
So what are you waiting for? Get out there and start skating and striding.
Tim Hauserman is the author of “Cross-Country Skiing in the Sierra Nevada.” He teaches skiing and runs the Strider Glider program at Tahoe Cross Country Ski Area.
For details to each of the resorts listed below, please visit cross-country skiing
ASC Training Center
“The place to race”
Whether hosting the NCAA National Championships, USSA Junior National Championships or the long list of seasonal community and school races, Auburn Ski Club (ASC) Training Center is dedicated to Nordic ski racing. It provides top-notch training from the youngest Super Sliders, to middle-school and high-school racers, and adults in the masters’ classes.
ASC has the only Olympic-distance biathlon range in the Western United States. Guided by Glenn Jobe, who represented the U.S. in the 1980 Winter Olympics biathlon, the program of races and year-round biathlon training programs is ambitious.
ASC sits at the tippy top of Donner Summit next to Boreal Mountain Resort on a north-facing slope in the trees. The area gets a ton of snow and what it gets, doesn’t melt fast. ASC Training Center has one of the longest ski seasons in the region. In addition to racing, the center is an affordable place to ski; it’s open to the public Wednesday through Sunday and every day on the holidays. There are 25 kilometers of trails and as you climb — and here you will certainly climb — views of Castle Peak are to the north.
“Ski along the shore”
Camp Richardson gives the cross-country skier the rare opportunity to glide along the shores of Lake Tahoe. The lakeside trail is part of 10 kilometers of groomed and marked trails, both along the shore and in the trees on the other side of Highway 89.
Located between South Lake Tahoe and Emerald Bay, Camp Richardson has been a year-round resort for more than 100 years. The resort’s Mountain Sports Center maintains the trail network.
After skiing on the beach, you can take a stroll to the end of the resort’s pier or head to the waterfront restaurant, The Beacon Bar & Grill, for dinner.
Clair Tappaan Lodge
“Go back in time”
The rambling, wood structure known as the Clair Tappaan Lodge was built by the Sierra Club in 1934 as an inexpensive place for Sierra Club members to come to ski. Out the lodge’s back door there are 14 kilometers of trails, groomed for guests or members.
The trails climb through forests of fir, taking skiers to the edge of the nearby downhill ski resorts: Boreal and Donner Ski Ranch. There is a good amount of climbing and descending; the trails are geared primarily for intermediate or beginning skiers with guts. The lodge is also the perfect starting location for a snowshoe around the surrounding hills.
Clair Tappaan Lodge is located about a mile from the top of Donner Pass on Old Highway 40. It is blessed with copious quantities of snow and is close to Royal Gorge, Sugar Bowl and Donner Ski Ranch.
Donner Memorial State Park
“Ski in the tracks of the Donner Party”
At Donner Memorial State Park you can glide or snowshoe along the shores of Donner Lake, wander through the forest where Donner Party members anxiously waited for the storms to abate or climb up Schallenberger Ridge and into Coldstream Canyon to see trains working their way across the Sierra.
Before or after your ski, visit the Donner Memorial State Park Visitors’ Center. It offers the history of the ill-fated Donner Party that suffered through the winter of 1846-47 near where the present-day the museum now stands. The visitors’ center also offers the story of the native people who resided here for thousands of years and the crucial importance of this busy travel corridor to the development of California.
“Where skiers once jumped”
Granlibakken Tahoe’s small ski hill was used for the National Championships in skiing and ski jumping in 1932. Now the warming hut and hill are open daily for skiing and sledding. Cross-country skiing and snowshoe rentals are available at the rental shop.
Consider Granlibakken as your trailhead to the ungroomed, cross-country and snowshoe trails that lead up to Page Meadows and the Tahoe Rim Trail. How about a full-moon ski or snowshoe to the meadows?
After a day of sledding or skiing, check out the après ski food and drinks in the family-friendly Cedar House Pub in the Main Lodge.
Hope Valley Outdoors
“Stunning mountain beauty”
Hope Valley is a spectacular alpine valley to the east of the Pacific Crest and Carson Pass. In the fall, it is best known for the amazing blaze of color of its aspen trees. In the winter, Hope Valley Outdoors offers access to 20 miles of groomed trails and 60 miles of marked trails on which to explore one of the true gems of the Sierra.
Hope Valley Outdoors is based in a sustainable, off-the-grid, solar-powered yurt, located at Pickett’s Junction, where Highways 88 and 89 meet.
There is no required trail fee, although a suggested donation of $10 would help defray the cost of grooming. At the yurt, check out rentals and lessons for cross-country skiing, telemarking and snowshoeing and Moonlight Expeditions. Due to the remote location and lack of phone service, Hope Valley Outdoors accepts only cash or checks.
Kirkwood Cross-Country Ski Area
“The best mountain views anywhere”
Located the heart of the high Sierra Nevada along Highway 88, Kirkwood Cross-Country Ski Area gets plentiful amounts of snow; it is my choice for the best mountain views to be found at a cross-country ski area in the region. Of the three trail systems, the Schneider Trail System has the most awesome views and most challenging routes. No pain, no gain, though, right? The Schneider trails may be accessed either via the Agony or Ecstasy trails from the lodge or by driving several miles to the trailhead above Caples Lake. It’s all uphill from the trailhead, but the views are sublime, especially to the south where you see Elephant’s Back, Round Top Mountain, Caples Lake, The Carson Spur and Kirkwood Mountain Resort. The further you climb, the better the views get.
The Caples Creek Trail system, from the lodge, is pretty dang nice, as well, highlighted by quick ups and downs past ancient junipers holding tight to the craggy granite. Across the highway sits the Meadow trails, which provide easy skiing at the base of Kirkwood Mountain Resort.
Rentals for all types of equipment are available. This year, Kirkwood acquired a new fleet of rental skis, poles and boots. Dogs are allowed on several trails. With the Kirkwood Mountain Resort just a mile away, downhillers and cross-country folks can both get what they want.
Lake Tahoe Community College
“South Lake Tahoe’s community ski area”
Lake Tahoe Community College offers up to 7 kilometers of groomed trails for both classic and skate skiing adjacent to the campus in the center of the city. Season passes are a steal at $29 per person or $49 for a family; day fees are $5. Cross-country and Snowshoe workshops are also available. The grooming schedule will be posted on facebook.com/ltccconnect.
“Skiing returns to Spooner Lake”
Spooner Lake Cross Country located at Spooner Lake State Park was once a favorite place to ski, with both beautiful meadow skiing and a long climb to views of Lake Tahoe. But when it went out of business a few years back, Nevada lost it’s only groomed Nordic ski area. Now, a group of folks are working toward bringing cross-country skiing to the Tahoe Meadows area on top of the Mt. Rose Highway. Nevada Nordic is grooming up to 10 kilometers of trails around Spooner Lake and up Snow Valley Road. Donations are greatly appreciated both for grooming these trails and to make the dream of a Tahoe Meadows ski area become a reality.
Northstar Cross Country, Telemark & Snowshoe Center
“Finding peace amongst the hubbub”
Northstar’s 35 kilometers of trails are beautifully groomed, lightly used and full of spectacular views of the surrounding mountains, valleys and Lake Tahoe. There is, however, a caveat. To get to those trails you need to press through the crowds of the Village at Northstar, take Big Springs Gondola to Mid Mountain, and find the lodge through the downhill skiers and snowboarders. Once you do escape the crowds and find your way onto the Nordic trails, however, you are in for a treat.
Inside the lodge guests will find a fireplace, full wax facilities and a sunny patio complete with Adirondack chairs and a fire pit. New this year, Northstar is offering Fat Tire Bike rentals for use on 100 percent of the cross-country trail system. Guests, however, cannot bring their own bikes, they must rent them from the center.
North Tahoe Regional Park
“Convenient and inexpensive”
How about skiing through the trees on 11 kilometers of trails for a $5 parking fee? And, if you are a resident in the North Tahoe Public Utility District (NTPUD), it’s free. The NTPUD grooms the trails based on snow conditions and demand. To get the latest grooming information, visit the North Tahoe Regional Park Facebook page. Leashed dogs are welcome on the trails. Trail maps are available at the North Tahoe Event Center in Kings Beach. Donations are accepted to defray grooming costs.
Royal Gorge Cross Country
“The nation’s largest cross-country ski resort”
At Royal Gorge, you will find more than 200 kilometers of trails offering a variety of striding, skating, snowshoeing and even snowkiting opportunities. You can ski to Point Mariah where the 360-degree panorama includes the 4,000-foot-deep Royal Gorge or make your way up the Snow Mountain Trail, where as you climb, you can view the knife-edged Devil’s Peak.
But wait, there is much more. How about Razorback Trail, which follows a narrow ridgeline with views to the south of the Pacific Crest and to the north of Castle Peak? Or the trails of the Van Norden Meadow, where you can practice your early-season skate-skiing technique on miles of level trail. I believe the fastest I have ever skate-skied was on the Van Norden trails with a strong wind at my back. Of course, skiing back against that wind was like climbing up a steep mountain.
Speaking of Van Norden’s winds, California’s first resort-based snowkiting school, Sierra Snowkite Center, operates at the Van Norden Meadow. It provides lessons, rentals and custom snowkite trips.
This summer, Royal Gorge was busy widening trails, adding culverts and buying a new grooming machine so that trails can remain in tip-top shape no matter the snow conditions.
Truckee Donner Land Trust owns Royal Gorge and Sugar Bowl manages it. Food service is available in the Summit Station Lodge and on weekends snacks can be purchased at the Wildy Cafe, located just above the frozen shore of Kilbourn Lake.
Squaw Creek Cross Country
“Glide Olympic Valley’s meadow”
Skiing around the meadow on Resort at Squaw Creek’s Nordic trails you will often be called to stop and take in the endless vistas of the mountains surrounding you, the home of the 1960 Winter Olympics. While those downhill runs are most likely packed with skiers and snowboarders, you might be one of the few humans on the Nordic trails. Animals that work there, however, are frequent users of the trails: the energetic packs of huskies pulling sleds for Wilderness Adventures Dog Sled Tours.
Resort at Squaw Creek offers 18 kilometers of groomed trails spread over 400 acres just outside the back door of the resort. The skiing is mostly beginner terrain through the meadows and a few more challenging trails in the trees.
There are group and private lessons daily with equipment rentals available at the Nordic Center yurt. After skiing, the resort’s extensive restaurant and spa offerings and a small skating rink, are just steps away.
Sugar Pine Point State Park
“Ski the trails of Olympians”
If you ski your way along the banks of General Creek on the Red Trail at Sugar Pine Point State Park, you will be skiing where Olympians once raced. When the 1960 Winter Olympics came to Tahoe, the cross-country ski events were held 15 miles from the valley along Tahoe’s West Shore. Interpretative panels along the trail provide information on the park’s rich Nordic Olympic history.
Sugar Pine Point State Park has about 18 kilometers of trails that pass under enormous cedars and sugar pines, cross the highway and on to the shoreline of Lake Tahoe. The Sierra State Park Foundation grooms trails in the park. While Sugar Pine Point State Park collects a $5 fee to park at the trailhead, use of the trails themselves is free. Donations to the nonprofit Sierra State Parks Foundation to cover the cost of grooming are gladly accepted, however.
How about skiing right from your tent? The park provides a limited number of first-come, first-served campsites during the winter months when rangers also offer a variety of guided snowshoe tours.
Tahoe City Winter Sports Park
“Ski, sled and skate in downtown”
Cross-country ski, snowshoe, take the dog for a walk, hit the sledding hill or ice skate at the Tahoe City Winter Sports Park without leaving downtown. Managed by the folks at Tahoe Cross Country Ski Area, it’s located on the grounds of what in the summer months is the Tahoe City Golf Course.
The site provides 4 kilometers of beginner trails groomed for skating and striding, as well as a separate loop for snowshoers and walkers. There is also a sledding hill. This winter the park is home to a new ice-skating facility, the only rink on the North Shore. Skate rentals are available. Cafe Zenon is onsite, dishing up pub fare and Vietnamese specialties. | tcpud.org
Tahoe Cross Country Ski Area
“Tahoe City’s friendly place to ski”
Whether you are flying down the twists and turns of the Bronze Trail, gliding to the views of Lake Tahoe from the Silver or Lakeview trails or burning off that Christmas ham grunting up the Gold Trail, there is a lot of great skiing at Tahoe XC. What makes the place so popular with both locals and visitors alike, however, is the friendly, low-key atmosphere. It is a North Tahoe gathering spot.
Tahoe Cross Country Ski Area offers 65 kilometers of trails. It provides equipment rentals for all levels of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing and a variety of lessons, including several free clinics each week. Hungry? Stop at the Free Heel Cafe for hot sandwiches, salads and soups, pastries and great coffee. Want to bring Rex the dog? Eight kilometers of trails allow dogs. Tahoe XC has three warming huts on the trails, including the Silver Hut overlooking Lake Tahoe.
The nonprofit Tahoe Cross Country Ski Education Association provides ski training for children through the Strider Glider program, the Tahoe XC Devo Team, Free Skiing for Schools and the Winter Discovery Center.
It is also home to the big daddy of cross-country ski races in the region: The Great Ski Race. Each year, if there is enough snow, hundreds of participants race 30 kilometers from Tahoe XC to the Cottonwood Restaurant above downtown Truckee as a fundraiser for the Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue Team.
Tahoe Donner Cross Country Ski Area
“Truckee’s Nordic skiing hub”
Tahoe Donner Cross Country Ski Area has an amazing variety of skiing terrain on more than 100 kilometers of trails. You can peacefully glide through Euer Valley surrounded by high peaks, including the Frog Lake Cliffs, or make the long and steep ascent to the summit of one of those peaks: Hawk’s Peak, where you find views of the Pacific Crest. You can twist and turn through groves of aspens or enjoy never-ending mountain views as you climb up open ridgelines.
Tahoe Donner unveiled an expansive state-of-the-art lodge last year, known as Alder Creek Adventure Center. It accommodates equestrian and biking activities in the summer. The mountain-style building has a rock fireplace and excellent views toward Hawk’s Peak. It includes a new rental facility, lockers and showers for season passholders, a waxing area and Alder Creek Cafe with a comprehensive menu. It also includes the Trailside Bar, which has become a popular hangout even for those not interested in skiing.
This past spring, Tahoe Donner acquired 640 acres in Crabtree Canyon, just north of Euer Valley, which will provide 16 kilometers of new trails in the canyon. Also this year, Tahoe Donner will offer reduced priced fat bike- or snowshoe-only season passes. Fat bikes are allowed on about 20 kilometers of trails, but only as conditions permit. If the snow is too soft, bikes can damage the trails.
There are four warming huts placed throughout the trail system. Cookhouse Cafe, at a trail junction in the middle of Euer Valley, provides food service on weekends. Dog lovers may buy a pass to ski with their dogs on 3 kilometers of designated trails including Cup of Tea, Piece of Cake and Dogonit.