Finally, some snow. As I write this, it is cold and snowing nicely in Pollock Pines. Winter sports hounds are grinning from ear to ear.
It’s time to head up to the high country with your skis and snowshoes at last. The deeper snow is at the higher elevations. Downhill skiers will have a much better base to glide on after this storm. The resorts, from Sierra-at-Tahoe to Squaw Valley and Northstar, are getting ready for bigger crowds. With the storm door open, they will go all out to make your trip to their trails an extremely good one.
Look for package deals and daily specials. The best way to do that is to look up your favorite resort on-line to see what they’re offering.
For the cross country and snowshoe crowd, the snow depth will be critical in choosing where you spend your day. A call to Sorensen’s Resort in Hope Valley on Sunday brought good news. After this storm, they expect to have around 15-20 inches of snow in the valley.
Hope Valley is a spectacular place no matter the time of year. In winter it is one of the best places to cross
country ski and snowshoe. Beginners especially find the terrain here very kind to fledgling skills. The valley floor is flat to rolling. It is possible to get some good long glides for practicing turning skills simply by heading uphill on the north side of the valley, or by skiing on the Willow Creek side of Hwy. 89.
Skiers with more experience will enjoy the Burnside Lake road on the south side of Picketts Junction. Hope Valley Outdoors has a yurt there in the meadow just across from Picketts Junction. They rent cross country skis and snowshoes, offer lessons, and have trail maps for sale, along with other goodies. All of the skiing in Hope Valley is free.
Head up towards Carson Pass and the terrain starts to get a bit more up and down. If you go all the way to Kirkwood, you’ll find their Nordic Center. Gear rentals and lessons are available here, but you’ll need to buy a trail pass to take advantage of this beautiful spot. Drive up into the Crystal Basin and find any spot where there’s enough snow and a place to park and you’re skiing in no time.
Loon Lake is a particularly good place to cross country ski. It is out there a bit, but worth the drive. The Loon Lake Chalet is a good place to start from. Skiing at the boat ramp is just plain fun. Ski across the dam, or take off on the Chipmunk Trail or Orion Trail if you have the experience to do so, or have someone with you whose done it before.
The side roads in the Crystal Basin offer some pretty good skiing and snowshoeing, however it’s best to limit yourself on many of these if you don’t know where they go. Old logging roads can take you deep into the forest and quite often do so over challenging terrain.
There are absolutely no services up in the Crystal Basin during winter. There’s not much any other time of year either. It is important to understand that you are largely on your own. Your cell phone may or may not work depending on where you are. There are no groomed trails or professional employees of a resort to help you out, no coffee cart with crumpets. This is true back country skiing at it’s best.
It is always important to be prepared when you head to the mountains, most especially during the winter months. Always ski or snowshoe with a partner or group. Take extra food and water, more than what you think you will use for your outing. Let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to be back.
Your pack should include first aid supplies, flashlight, matches and some dryer lint or something else
to start a fire, any extra clothing or gear that you need, any meds you routinely take, a large black plastic
trash bag, duct tape, and trail maps, as a minimum. Check the El Dorado Nordic Ski Patrol website for a more complete list of recommended gear.
When you head out to ski, either Alpine or Nordic, or snowshoe, dress in layers. You will stay more comfortable during your day if you can take a layer off to cool down or put one on to warm up. Leave all of your cotton clothing at home. Smartwool, wool, and synthetics are the only things you should wear out there. Especially in the back country, your choice of clothing could save your life.
The wait is over. Snow is on the ground. Clean the skis and snowshoes, shake out your gear, and get outside.