Hopscotching among Lake Tahoe's plentiful slopes
I drove toward the moon, a full and brilliant orange globe suspended above the horizon in a March sky. Pockets of fog clung to the pavement of Route 50 as Sacramento faded in the rearview mirror. Ahead, in the darkness, lay the mountains that define Tahoe, where I planned to hopscotch through five ski resorts around the 191-square-mile lake. ...
As any skier or snowboarder will tell you, a successful winter-sport outing largely depends on the whim of always fickle Mother Nature. One year, she can deliver record-breaking snowfall, like the time in 2011 when 16 feet fell across Lake Tahoe in nine days — so much snow that it buried the ski lifts.
But she can just as easily force you to trade the snow-covered slopes for the hotel pool, staring in disbelief at the bare mountain.
In short, it’s a gamble.
You can, however, stack the decks in your favor.
That bounty of snow that swallowed the Tahoe ski lifts fell in March, rescuing an otherwise dismal season. Last year, when I set out for Tahoe, intermittent storms all through the winter had built up a decent base of snow, and the area typically gets mid-spring dumps. Another record-breaking storm was a long shot, but the odds were good.
Even if feet of snow fell the night after I arrived in South Lake Tahoe, though, I still wouldn’t be able to ski. Not unless I wanted to brave the slopes wearing just the light sweater, jeans and thin socks that I’d worn on the plane.
Half a day later, I was riding the gondola up Heavenly Resort, the first of five resorts on my ambitious itinerary. The mountain base had been covered by a leaden overcast, but as the lift climbed the mountain, we broke through the dense blanket of gray to a vibrant bluebird sky bathed in sunlight. The snow gleamed an almost fluorescent white, and the sparkling expanse of Lake Tahoe, visible beyond the gray shroud covering the town of South Lake Tahoe, felt close enough to touch.
“This is where God and science grab hands and say, ‘Ha! This rocks!’ ” exclaimed Mike Fry, a longtime Tahoe resident with a slight gray beard and inviting blue eyes....
And the Tahoe region offers the perfect solution for all comers, from first-timers getting their West Coast powder legs to hard-charging skiers yearning for steep-and-deep terrain to couples looking to marry a few days on the slopes with vineyard tours.
In total, Lake Tahoe boasts seven world-class ski resorts, along with a handful of local mountains. I visited five; three on the southern side near South Lake Tahoe and two in North Tahoe. And from the beginning, it was clear that this visit wasn’t going to be long enough. Instead of an extensive tour, it became a Tahoe primer.
Heavenly is ...
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