With the Sierra Nevada snowpack at record levels, a break in recent storms that left roads clear and dry, and California Ski Week throngs back in school – we decided to venture east last week to play in the snow at Lake Tahoe.
We have had mixed experiences vacationing during off-peak weeks for tourists … like the trip to Sun River, OR, when it was too cold to whitewater raft, or the May trip to Lake Cumberland, KY, where we sat in the cabin for a week and watched the spring rains.
This time, however, we hit the jackpot. No traffic on the road to South Lake Tahoe. No crowds in town. Bargain hotel rates. And most services were up and running in anticipation of another weekend snow dump and spring break just around the corner.
The only real challenge turned out to be deciding what to do. No skiing. (Bad knees.) No gambling. (Not our thing.) The sleigh rides seemed lame and the gondola to the top of Heavenly Mountain overpriced. Dog sledding just seemed wrong. The solution? Snow shoeing!
So after splitting a serviceable burger and disappointing side of sweet potato tots – not quite sure why we keep thinking we’ll ever find a tasty fried sweet potato – we drove over to Camp Richardson to make like Bigfoot.
The camp was a ghost town, but its Mountain Sports Center was open for business and we secured snow shoes for just $15 apiece for four hours. (Total bill for two was less than half the price of a gondola ride for one.) Despite signing a lengthy waiver, the clerk offered just one caution with the rental: “Don’t back up.”
And then we were off, tromping loudly through the snow-shrouded Valhalla Tahoe shoreline beneath stately redwoods and enjoying the crisp air, the satisfying crunch of each footstep and the sapphire-like glimmer of the lake in the late-afternoon sunshine.
Beaten paths in the snow were easier to navigate than fresh powder, which caused our feet to sink a little deeper. Yet blazing a fresh trail provided more than enough satisfaction to offset the dribble of snow down the back of our shoes. So what happens when you back up? You fall on your backside, with a snow-muffled whomp.
Looking to warm up a bit after our snowy tromp, we drove back to town for a hot toddy at Whiskey Dick’s and closed out the day with the most expensive activity of the day – dinner at Jimmy’s Restaurant at the Landing. My redrum was amazing. (Google it.) And we were treated to the sight of a spectacular crescent moon reclining low in the sky above the mountains as we walked to the car.
The coup de gras for Dawn? The hotel’s well was literally overflowing, creating a mini-ice flow and a rare guilt-free moment for a hot bath in drought-recovering California.
No trip to Tahoe is complete without a full breakfast at Red Hut. We prefer the gritty original but it was packed and we found the food every bit as yummy at one of the spiffy offshoots. If we’d have accepted every coffee refill offered we could have hoofed it to the top of Heavenly without the gondola, but we settled instead for another brisk walk around Camp Richardson, this time on the groomed trails ($7 per person) through the deserted snow-covered campground. Nice, but we preferred shoeing by the lake.
The highlight of Day 2? Red Hut came close, but there’s nothing quite like steak cabernet pot pies at Z-Pies in Placerville, CA, on the drive home. So good we brought two frozen pies home. Say, what’s for dinner?