Backcountry bound: Public transit provides backcountry access

Some of the world-class terrain accessed by public transit. | John Crockett

Sit in the slow crawl of winter weekend traffic and the need to reduce vehicles in Truckee and Tahoe is apparent. Sure, you can take the Tahoe Area Regional Transit (TART) bus to the resorts from most places around the lake but what about public transit for backcountry access?

This year microtransit options through the Tahoe Backcountry Alliance Shuttle and TART Connect app provide some options as the programs expand to Truckee and South Lake Tahoe.

Tahoe Backcountry Alliance (TBA), the area’s leading advocate for human-powered winter backcountry, expanded its microtransit program this year. The grant-funded program increased available dates this year and offered a South Shore shuttle in February. The shuttle’s service area now covers most of the region including Truckee to Emerald Bay, as well as Incline Village and Mount Rose Summit.

Our group loads up gear and we’re whisked down the West Shore, taking in the views and drinking coffee rather than stressing about finding a parking spot or any other white-knuckle concerns.

“Our goal with the program … is really about changing minds and getting people to think about going to the trailheads differently,” says Tahoe Backcountry Alliance CEO Anthony Cupaiuolo.

“Recreational microtransit is something that can make sense in the long run.” His hope is that in the future, backcountry riders will think of taking transit as a primary option.

I pull into the Tahoe City Transit Center early on a Saturday morning and find Michael Keating, owner of Tahoe Sierra Transportation, waiting in a warmed-up Suburban. TBA hires Tahoe Sierra Transportation to drive in North Lake while Crown Taxi drives for South Lake. Our group loads up gear and we’re whisked down the West Shore, taking in the views and drinking coffee rather than stressing about finding a parking spot or any other white-knuckle concerns.

Heading south down the West Shore, the first option for a drop is the top of Ward Creek Road at the bottom of Palisades Tahoe/Alpine Meadows’s Sherwood Chair. Normally requiring an Ikon pass or home ownership to access, a TBA shuttle drop here and an hour or two skin can get you to the southeast facing terrain below Grouse Rock, the short but sweet chute nestled between Twin Peaks, or storm laps in the north-facing trees below Stanford Rock.

On this sunny mid-winter day, our group opts for big views and we continue south. Rubicon Peak is a backcountry ski spot ideal for the TBA shuttle. The trailhead is nestled in a residential neighborhood with limited parking, especially on a decent snow year. The route is one of the best tree runs on the lake with a north aspect, 2,000 feet of consistent fall line and relative protection from avalanche hazard.

We ask Keating to take us to the end of the line, the gates at the north end of Emerald Bay. This area between Jake’s Peak and Emerald Bay Chutes offers see-it-and-ski-it options where you can dial up the aspect, from southeast to northeast, according to temperatures and time of day. In a region with countless epic views, this one surpasses them all as wide-open turns flow more than 2,000-feet down to the green depths of Emerald Bay.

Many backcountry trailheads start in neighborhoods where at best, you may tick off some locals and at worst, congestion can cause safety issues. TART Connect, the microtransit service which launched on the North Shore in 2021 and in Truckee this past summer, can alleviate some of these problems and provide door-to-trailhead access, on demand.

The handy app gives you an estimated pick up time before requesting a ride making it easy to time a rendezvous. TART Connect is focused on those in and around town centers so don’t expect a ride to Mount Rose or Brockway Summit. But for in-neighborhood access to great skiing around Incline Village or Tahoe Donner, the on-demand microtransit service is a great option.

While current public transit choices may be limited due to range, availability or consistency, the goal is to open minds and gauge demand. With the combination of reduced stress and less cars on the road, transit-assisted backcountry access is part of the future of Tahoe recreation.

Best bets
For the best storm day options, take the TBA Shuttle to Stanford Rock or Rubicon Peak on the West Shore (1 to 2 hours with 2,000’ of vertical).

For the best TART options, head to Sunrise Bowl in Tahoe Donner (1 hour, 700’ of vertical) or Rose Knob Peak in Incline Village (3 to 4 hours, 2,200’ vertical).

Backcountry Shuttle, North Shore | March 11, 18 & 25
Reservations (530) 550-5300,


TART Connect
Placer & Washoe counties and Town of Truckee
TART connect app or (530) 214-5811