When Tahoe started getting blasted by weekly storms, on a lark, I checked roundtrip airfare from New York City to Reno. It was less than $140, and I had enough miles to buy a ticket on Jetblue. I walked into my boss's office, told him I was going to take a long weekend, and booked a flight. In the weeks after I did that, five friends decided to join me.
On Friday, December 11th, we flew from JFK to Reno, picked up two SUVs and drove to South Lake Tahoe, where we stayed at the Blue Jay Lodge, a small, basic motel located a few minutes walk from the Heavenly Gondola.
Thursday had been a heavy storm, dropping between 24-27" on the mountains in the Tahoe region. Saturday we woke up to a bright blue sky, and hit Heavenly mountain.
Roughly 50% of their terrain was open, though I did not notice too many closed trails, aside from Galaxy and both Mott and Killbrew Canyons. The fact that the canyons were not open was a little disappointing, as Heavenly is very much an intermediate mountain. However, considering that I am not in late season ski shape, and had never skied at altitude, it wasn't a huge loss. We started by skiing off the Tamarack lift on a groomer, with some slight dipping into the trees on the side, down to the Dipper Express. We immediately followed by going off-piste, into tons of soft fluffy snow. Almost the entire rest of the day was spend doing laps on the Nevada side of the Mountain, off of the Dipper, Comet, and Stagecoach lifts. A local showed us how to get to Milky Way Bowl, and we skied that as well.
For the most part, we stayed in the woods, which, compared to woods here in the Northeast, were spacious, with deep snow.
In the afternoon, we did a couple of quick laps on the California side, and then spend 45 minutes trying to get back to the Gondola, so we could download to the base.
Sunday, our intent was to ski Heavenly again, but the weather had a different idea. A blizzard had blown in, and we found out that Heavenly was only opening two lifts. Someone told us that Northstar is better sheltered, so during a long breakfast, we called around, checking both Alpine Meadows, and Northstar. Alpine said all their lifts were closed, Northstar said they would be open. We drove, roughly an hour in pretty awful conditions, chasing an open mountain (4 of us are Epic Passholders, so we were leaning towards Northstar anyway), only to get to the turn off on RT 267 as Northstar announced a wind closure on all their lifts. Considering the reports were that the wind speeds were hitting 100-120mph, we couldn't blame them. Drove back to South Lake Tahoe, and hit a bar and then a Mexican restaurant (Cafe Azul) for dinner.
Monday we woke up bright and early. This was the day we were all excited for. Fourteen inches of snow had fallen on Kirkwood, a smaller ski area about 35 miles south of South Lake Tahoe. Loading up the two SUVs, we drove through some of the most beautiful terrain I have ever seen to get to Kirkwood.
On arrival, we found that only one lift was open (outside of the beginner area), as the storm the day before had iced the other lifts. It only accessed the mid mountain. We did three laps on that lift, skiing into the woods on each run. The snow was soft, as there had not been a thaw freeze cycle since we arrived. 14" on top of the previous 27". By 10am, the lift serving Wagon Wheel Bowl and Sentinel bowl was open and we hopped right on. First, we dropped into the bowl immediately to skier's left. It was glorious. Steep and deep.
On our second ride up the lift, we traversed as far to skier's left as possible. Four of us followed the boot pack up to Glove Rock. We stopped for some photos, dropped into a tiny trail that skiers around the left side of Glove Rock, and then traversed into the Palisade. Our one snowboarder got separated from us on the traverse, but fortunately found us again once we dropped into the trees. We skied down into the beginner area, and the liftie was extremely stoked that we came down via Palisade. Not too many people were up there, as the only access seems to be via skinning up or the bootpack.
After lunch, we went back up, and went to the skier;s right, into Wagon Wheel Bowl, which was very much, ski what you see terrain (as was all of the upper reaches of Kirkwood. By this point, the Wall was opened, and we did three or four lift rides up, choosing different lines each time.
All in all, Kirkwood was the most fun I ever had on a mountain, and extremely challenging compared to Heavenly.
Two of our party had to fly back to New York that Monday night, leaving four of us to return to Heavenly on Tuesday.
It was windy, with low visibility, so we stayed on the lower reaches of the Nevada side until the afternoon, when some sun broke through. During that time, we were trying to teach the weakest skier of our group better technique. The snow was not as soft as it was the previous day, as it had been groomed twice, and the trees were getting skied into chowder.
In the afternoon, we left the intermediate to ski groomers, and we started exploring the woods on the California side. Our method of choosing lines was "fresh snow, let's go." We found ourselves off the marked tree runs, and at one point were not sure if we could even make it back to the lifts, or were going to end up on the roads in South Lake Tahoe. Fortuntately we ended up at the lifts. We took one run down Heavenly's signature mogul run, Gunbarrel, and then started lapping trees off of Sky Express, including accidentally ending up in the Pinnacles, which was closed, rightfully so, for thin cover.
We were surprised at how much untracked powder we were able to find on Tuesday, but grateful for it.
Tuesday night, we drove back to Reno, and took the redeye back to New York.
All in all, while we lost a day to the storm, 3 ski days in some fresh soft powder was amazing. I thoroughly enjoyed Heavenly, and fell in love with Kirkwood.
The ridgeline at Kirkwood
At Glove Rock
At Glove Rock
Looking over Nevada (Heavenly)
Overlooking the Lake (California side of Heavenly)
After we skied past Glove Rock (Kirkwood)
Dropping into Wagon Wheel Bowl (Kirkwood)
Hiking to Glove Rock (Kirkwood)