The Glass is Half Full

Squaw Valley

Squaw Valley on December 13, 2014.

Many Tahopians were thoroughly disappointed that last week’s storm did not live up to to the hype generated by the media machine. Snowfall totals did not even scratch the low end of the forecast and virtually no snow fell at lake level. That said, there is still plenty to be grateful for. Most of drought stricken California received multiple inches of much needed rain. Higher elevations in Tahoe received a couple of feet of wet snow followed by cold nights and days which made for perfect velvety powder conditions.

The Funnel and the Roof at Squaw Valley.

The Funnel and the Roof at Squaw Valley.

Idiot's Delight at Alpine Meadows.

Idiot’s Delight at Alpine Meadows.

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The Lost Ski Area

Eureka Peak and Eureka Lake.

Eureka Peak and Eureka Lake.

Eureka Peak, located about an hour drive north of Truckee, is home to some of California’s richest ski history and is still a great place to visit today. The gold rush of the late 1800’s brought thousands of eager miners to Plumas County in search of gold. During the winter months, mining operations slowed down and miners looked to winter activities to kill boredom. Longboard skis made from timber were used in the first official ski races in California in which skiers straight ran Eureka Peak reaching speeds of up to 80 miles per hour. Mining ore buckets on Gold Mountain (now Eureka Peak) were used by skiers as possibly the first ski lift in the world.

Poma lift and ski lodge at the old Eureka Ski Bowl.

Poma lift and ski lodge at Eureka Ski Bowl.

In the 1950’s Eureka Ski Bowl opened with a rope tow (later replaced by two poma lifts) serving the wide open slopes below Eureka Lake. Eureka Ski Bowl closed some time ago but a new cooperative group has been working to reopen it. They have raised $370,000 so far and have purchased the retired Mainline double chairlift from Squaw Valley. Work has begun on the lower terminal and will continue as funds permit. If the group succeeds, Eureka Ski Bowl will once again be a great place for families and skiers to gather and recreate. The lift will also provide great backcountry access to Eureka Peak proper which has everything from low angle glades to steep, north facing chutes and cliffs.

The north face of Eureka Peak.

The north face of Eureka Peak.

Neighboring Mt. Washtington as seen from the summit of Eureka Peak.  SBDC hopes to explore this zone as conditions permit this winter.

Neighboring Mt. Washington as seen from the summit of Eureka Peak. SBDC hopes to explore this zone in winter as conditions permit.

Stone hut at the foot of Mt. Washington.

Stone hut at the foot of Mt. Washington.

With or without ski lifts, Eureka Peak is a great place for a backcountry adventure. Eureka State Park is located in Plumas County, about four miles west of the town of Graeagle. From Graeagle, take route 506 past Mohawk to the tiny town of Johnsville. About a mile past Johnsville the road dead ends at a parking lot which is a popular starting point for snowshoers, nordic skiers and backcountry enthusiasts of all types. From the parking lot you can skin up Eureka Ski Bowl to Eureka Lake and Eureka Peak. In the summertime you can take a 4 wheel drive road through the old ski bowl to Eureka Lake and the start of a great hike called the Eureka Peak loop trail. Visiting this part of the Sierra feels like discovering a time capsule of Sierra ski history and a way of life long forgotten.

Plumas Ski Club history of Eureka Peak

Fundraising for the Johnsville Historic Ski Bowl

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Afterglow. New short film from Sweetgrass Productions

Never ones to rest on their laurels, Nick Waggoner and Mike Brown of Sweetgrass Productions have followed up their stellar two year project Valhalla (2013), with a short film called Afterglow. The movie includes three main chapters, all of which feature night skiing images of intensifying brilliance with each new segment. Chris Benchetler, Pep Fujas, Eric Hjorleifson and Daron Rahlves provide aesthetically perfect shredding to showcase ski cinematography like nothing you have seen before. Philips Ambilight TV helped finance the effort. If corporate funding can allow producers like Waggoner and Brown turn their hyper progressive visions into art we can drool over, bring it on.

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Squaw’s winter prep includes enhanced tree skiing

A Shinook Helicopter hauls trees down from the Red Dog / Heidi's area of Squaw Valley.

A Shinook Helicopter hauls trees down from the Red Dog / Heidi’s area of Squaw Valley.

Several projects have kept Squaw Valley and KSL busy this fall. Earlier this month a helicopter placed huge burlap and mesh foil mats over ski runs on Red Dog and Resort Chair terrain. The mats are designed to help with vegetation seeding and erosion control. One might also think they could help the resort open groomers with a minimal amount of snow since the mats basically create a glorified carpet over select ski runs.

Squaw is also undertaking an aggressive forest health management plan which will remove 5,000 dead or diseased trees from the Red Dog region of the lower mountain. Lower level vegetation that could serve as fire fuel will also be removed from Red Dog Face to Poulsens Gully. Although the primary intention of the project is to improve the natural habitat and reduce the risk of wildfire, skiers will be delighted in over 100 acres of new tree skiing access. This should be especially noteworthy on storm days when Squaw struggles to get the upper mountain open.

Lumber from the tree thinning project ready to be driven out of Squaw.

Lumber from the tree thinning project ready to be driven out of Squaw.

Burlap and mesh sheets in the Squaw parking lot await placement by helicopter onto lower mountain ski runs.

Burlap and mesh sheets in the Squaw parking lot await placement by helicopter onto lower mountain ski runs.

Crews work on the hanger of the Squaw tram during annual fall maintenance.

Crews work on the hanger of the Squaw tram during annual fall maintenance.

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High Country Dusting

A few inches of snow fell above 7,000 on Saturday. More precipitation is forecast for the weekend.

New snow at Boreal on Saturday.

New snow at Boreal on Saturday.

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Truckee River Day

Volunteers remove milfoil from the Truckee River.

Volunteers remove milfoil from the Truckee River.

The 19th Annual Truckee River Day was held Sunday. 400 volunteers completed restoration work at 14 different sites including Prosser Creek, Martis Valley and of course the Truckee River. The three year drought has reduced water levels enough to access and remove large amounts of Eurasion milfoil, an invasive weed which has flourished on the upper portions of the Truckee River.

Truckee River is merely a trickle just past the dam in Tahoe City.

Drought has reduced the Truckee River to a trickle just past the dam in Tahoe City.

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JP Auclair and Andreas Fransson killed in avalanche

JP Auclair and Andreas Fransson died in an avalanche on Mount Cochrane in southern Patagonia Monday.  JP Auclair was one of the founding fathers of the New Canadian Airforce freestyle movement nearly 20 years ago and has been an innovator, leader and mentor in the sport of skiing ever since.  In recent year’s Auclair gravitated toward bigger ski mountaineering objectives.  Andreas Fransson had a passion for extremely bold and unforgiving descents, including the first and only descent of the South Face of Denali.

Powder Coverage Auclair and Fransson

ESPN Coverage of Incident

Backcountry Magazine Profile on Andreas Fransson

Reaching My Limit Eisode 2 from Bjarne Salén on Vimeo.

JP Auclair Street Segment (from All.I.Can.) from Sherpas Cinema on Vimeo.

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Heavy Precip Drowns King Fire

Drenching rains have doused the King Fire and brought much needed relief to the Lake Tahoe Region. The fire, which has been burning since September 13, is now 87% contained. Higher elevations around Tahoe also received their first snowfall of the year with 4 inches reported at Squaw Valley.

rain in squaw

The first round of rain hit Squaw Valley on Thursday, September 25.

Fresh snow on Saturday morning.

Fresh snow on Saturday morning.

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King Fire threatens Tahoe Basin

King Fire as seen from Kings Beach on September 18, 2014.

King Fire as seen from Kings Beach.

Thursday, September 18, 2014
The King Fire, which began over the weekend near Pollock Pines, CA has now exceeded 70,000 acres in size and entered into Placer County. Boosted by strong southwest winds, the fire more than doubled in size overnight Wednesday and is now reportedly only 12 miles from Tahoe City. Heavy smoke and ash poured into Squaw Valley by noon today. The fire is 5% contained and has nearly 4,000 firefighters on the scene. East winds are predicted for Friday which should help reverse the current track of the fire.

Squaw Valley at 1pm Thursday, September 18.

Squaw Valley at 1pm Thursday, September 18.

KT 22 on Thursday, September 18.

KT 22 on Thursday, September 18.

KT 22 on September 7.

KT 22 on September 7.

Smoke from King Fire on Wednesday, September 17.

Smoke from King Fire on Wednesday, September 17.

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RIP C2

Cornice II zone in fairly low snow.

Cornice II zone in fairly low snow. Photo: Scott Gaffney

The Cornice II Chair at Squaw Valley was officially retired when the lift was dismantled and hauled away last week. The chair rarely spun in the last decade since the Headwall Express serves the same terrain and more, making C2 virtually obsolete. Practicality aside, C2 epitomized the slow, spectator friendly lifts that helped define Squaw’s reputation for rowdy terrain. The lift crept up the right side of C2 Bowl which is littered with cliff hucks, steeps and protected north facing powder stashes. C2 unloaded skiers at the bottom of the Light Towers ridge which could also be easily viewed from the chair. C2 allowed you to study your line before skiing it and look for zones that were still untracked. Cornice II Bowl will probably look better aesthetically without the decrepit chairline but we won’t forget the lift that was almost as fun to ride as it was to ski.

Sikorsky pulls C2 on May 23, 2014 from Nut Hut Studios on Vimeo.

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