Following a recent snowstorm, I needed to drive to Donner Summit. As I made my way down Donner Pass Road in Truckee to access Interstate 80, I saw a group of people sledding off the side of a hill onto the busy, icy road. I slowed down. The group didn’t seem to notice or care about vehicles. Did they realize it’s difficult to stop a 4,500-pound car on a snow-covered road? With many places to sled in the Tahoe Sierra, why would people put their children on a fast-moving contraption and sled into a busy winter road?
After an unprecedented number of people flocked to the Tahoe Sierra during the height of the COVID pandemic starting in 2020, Tahoe Weekly began reporting on the impacts of overtourism in the region including on trash, traffic, wildlife and wildfires, as well as the escalating problems at non-designated sledding areas in the winter.
When asked if the issue has improved in the last few years, California Highway Patrol Officer Chris Falkowski, replied with one word, “Nope.” He points out that illegal sledding and parking are still a huge problem, particularly on Donner Summit.
“People still use rest areas as snow parks, pulling off the freeway and sledding in unsafe areas. If a sign says keep out, no parking, then do it,” Falkowski says. Tickets can cost anywhere between $80 and $250 depending on the offense, but have done little to curb the problems.
Illegal sledding and parking create multiple issues, such as obstructing emergency vehicle access, hampering snow removal operations and causing traffic. Falkowski also points out that the amount of litter left behind continues to plague the area.
“People leave behind barbecue grills, cases of empty alcohol bottles and cracked sleds,” says Falkowski. He is baffled with people choosing to sled off Soda Springs Road under high-voltage wires.
Two of the most highly trafficked sled areas in the Tahoe Basin are Spooner Summit and Tahoe Meadows along Mt. Rose Highway. Although there has been some progress, the litter battle remains a problem.
According to Katie Sheehan, executive director of the nonprofit Clean Tahoe, during the winter of 2020-21, the organization collected 13,000 pounds of sled trash at Spooner Summit at the junction of Highways 28 and 50 on the East Shore. Clean Tahoe is contracted by Nevada Department of Transportation, [NDOT] to pick up trash at the top of Spooner as well as on Mt. Rose.
“During the winter of 2020-21, prior to [League to Save Lake Tahoe] funding a Dumpster and portable toilets at the Spooner sled hill, Tahoe Blue Crews collected a total of 1,981 pounds of litter.” –Chris Joseph
“We visit these sites five days a week to clean litter and trash all year round, as well as clear away illegal dumps,” explains Sheehan.
“The League to Save Lake Tahoe paid for a Dumpster and two porta-potties to be installed and serviced up at Spooner Summit, adjacent to the sled hill,” says Chris Joseph, communications director for League to Save Lake Tahoe.
Unfortunately, the solution is short-term as the Dumpster and bathrooms are paid for out of the League to Save Lake Tahoe’s budget. The League’s Tahoe Blew Crews also collect garbage from the Spooner sled hill.
Find Tahoe Weekly’s coverage on tourism impacts at TheTahoeWeekly.com/trash
“During the winter of 2020-21, prior to the League funding a Dumpster and portable toilets at the Spooner sled hill, Tahoe Blue Crews collected a total of 1,981 pounds of litter. During the winter of 2021-22, with a League-funded Dumpster and two portable toilets in place, the same Tahoe Blue Crew collected 126 pounds of trash. The Dumpster intercepted approximately 2,000 pounds of would-be litter. In short, Dumpsters and toilets work at keeping litter out of the Tahoe environment,” wrote Joseph in a follow-up email to the Tahoe Weekly.
Tahoe Fund, League to Save Lake Tahoe and Take Care Tahoe created a Slediquette Campaign during the pandemic to combat the debris left behind by broken plastic sleds. The campaign encourages people to clean up and recycle broken sleds or snow tubes using its sled corrals and to pack out all trash.
Along with the visible trash left behind by broken sleds, those broken pieces will degrade even more if not picked up and become microplastics contaminating the environment, including local waterways as Tahoe Weekly reported in our story “Microplastics: Tahoe’s tiniest trash”
“We are in the middle of updating our sled corral program. We will be installing new signs at all of the corrals and working with some volunteer groups to maintain them throughout the winter,” wrote Noah Shapiro, program and outreach coordinator for Tahoe Fund, in an email to Tahoe Weekly. “We are changing our focus this year to emphasize only leaving broken sleds in the corrals instead of trying to get people to leave their functional sleds behind for others to borrow.”
“The bottom line is the problem persists. People are still buying cheap sleds, the sleds are still exploding and people are still sledding on non-sanctioned sled hills,” says Joseph.
He recognizes that sledding is a great recreational option and suggests one solution is to encourage people to purchase more durable sleds. Joseph adds that although the more durable sleds are a little more expensive, they last for a long time.
Local officials also urge people to use established tubing hills with free options available at Sno-Parks throughout the region, as well as at many ski resorts and tubing areas. The Tahoe Weekly prints a complete list of all local tubing areas in every edition in the winter and it’s also available at TheTahoeWeekly.com/winter.
Educating the public
How do organizations committed to battling the litter issue in Tahoe communicate with visitors and educate them about trash and sledding safety?
“Trying to reach people is a tough nut to crack. We’ve been working with destination management organizations. They’ve been good about communicating messaging about being good environmental stewards,” says Joseph.
League to Save Lake Tahoe trains volunteers for its Tahoe Blue Crew program, where people adopt a region and keep it clean and free of the trash.
Visit TheTahoeWeekly.com/trash for links to report trash issues
“We’ve been working with the SOS Outreach, a youth program for local kids. They are part of the Tahoe Blue Crew program. The kids adopted Van Sickle State Park,” says Joseph.
After the teens noticed how much sled trash was being left behind in the park, Van Sickle Bi-State Park became one of their cleanup initiatives. Joseph also pointed out that the young people went to local businesses to stop the sale of plastic sleds. As a direct result, Raley’s in South Lake Tahoe and Truckee now stock metal discs and wood and metal toboggans.
The problem of accessible sledding with adequate infrastructure to accommodate people who want to recreate in the snow for free remains a conundrum for the Tahoe Sierra and its visitors. Sledding in Tahoe continues to be a balance between access and managing its impacts.
California Sno-Parks & permits | bit.ly/ca_snoparks
Clean Up the Lake | cleanupthelake.org
Keep Tahoe Blue | keeptahoeblue.org
Keep Truckee Green | keeptruckeegreen.org
Leave No Trace Principles | lnt.org
Slediquette Campaign | takecaretahoe.org/sleds
Tahoe Blue Crews | keeptahoeblue.org
Tahoe Fund | tahoefund.org
Truckee Tahoe Litter Group | Facebook
Tubing areas | TheTahoeWeekly.com/winter
- Sled at designated sled hills, Sno-Parks & tubing areas
- Don’t sled along roadways
- Purchase non-plastic sleds (tubing areas provide sleds)
- Carry doggie bags & pick up after your dog
- Pack out broken sleds, trash, food & doggie bags
- Expect closed or no restrooms at Sno-Parks
- Practice the Leave No Trace Principles
Report trash issues
Citizen Science app | citizensciencetahoe.org
Click Fix app (Truckee) | townoftruckee.com
El Dorado County
Eastern Slope area | (530) 573-3450, edcgov.us
Code Enforcement Office | (775) 782-6214, douglascountynv.gov
Illegal dumping | (530) 265-7111, mynevadacounty.com
Garbage complaints | (530) 581-6240, placer.ca.gov
Tahoe Truckee Sierra Disposal | (530) 583-7800, waste101.com
South Lake Tahoe
City of South Lake Tahoe | (530) 542-6000, cityofslt.us
South Tahoe Refuse | (530) 541-5105, southtahoerefuse.com
Clean Tahoe Program | (530) 544-4210, clean-tahoe.org
Town of Truckee Trash complaints | townoftruckee.com
Keep Truckee Green | (530) 582-7700, keeptruckeegreen.org
Truckee-Donner Recreation & Parks District | (530) 582-7720, tdrpd.org
Garbage complaints | (775) 328-6106, washoecounty.us