We are about halfway through a ski season we knew would be strange from the start. Despite the clutch of Covid, NorCal skiers have much to be grateful for. Ski areas have been able to operate with Covid protocol and the lifts have kept spinning. The skiing has been remarkably good considering we have been hovering around 50% of normal snowfall for most of the season. On the downside, coverage below 7K was thin until late January and a persistent weak layer has been lurking for most of the season. Traffic has been insane on big snow weekends and restaurants have only been serving to go food but those are first world problems, right? An atmospheric river that fell entirely (and atypically) as snow kicked us into high gear at the end of January. A few more refills since then have kept the glass half full.
SnowFest! is North Lake Tahoe’s annual spring snow celebration, and this year is shaping up to be as good as ever. Every spring since 1982, North Lake Tahoe throws this big party, packing 10 full days with parades, special events, races, parties, concerts, and more. If you’re a skier or rider, this is one not to miss.
During SnowFest!, you can enjoy on-snow events at resorts like Squaw Valley USA, Alpine Meadows, Homewood, Diamond Peak, and Northstar-at-Tahoe. There’s plenty of off-snow excitement too, from Tainted Love rocking 80’s hits at the Crystal Bay Casino and the Unimog mobile party unit thumping Squaw’s sun deck, to the polar bear swim and King’s Beach parade. Festivities begin on Thursday, February 27th and go through Sunday, March 9th.
If you’re from out of town, you’ll want to find the best place to stay for SnowFest! There are lots of hotels in the Tahoe area, but if you’re looking for a more private experience, you can look to Zaranga, a marketplace for professionally managed vacation rentals. A friend of the blog works for the company and shared some of its unique advantages with us.
Zaranga works with property managers to offer exclusive discounts for last-minute travel, low season travel, and more. Bookings are confirmed instantly so you don’t have to deal with wait times that come with inquiries, phone calls, emails back and forth, etc. You can call their customer service team at any time with questions or to get help in finding a property.
Zaranga has lots of vacation rentals where the SnowFest! action is, including in Tahoe City, Kings Beach, Carnelian Bay, Tahoe Vista, and Incline Village. Below are some of the most notable houses:
See you at the party!
Dr. Robb Gaffney speaks about his Sportgevity movement which promotes longevity in the sports we love and the goal of enjoying them for many decades. Check it out here courtesy of Last Chair:
What is Sportgevity?
Alpine Meadows local, Jason Mack, recently returned from guiding the third Antarctic Ski Cruise. Read about his adventures with glacial skiing, huge ocean swells, penguins, seals and more in his complete trip log.
My first story for Epic Moms, Gearing Up: Kids’s Skis, Boots and Snowboards, was published yesterday. In it, I offer fitting advice for kids’ gear and info on Tahoe gear trade-in programs. There will be more mommy blogging to come throughout the season, so stay tuned.
A Weekend with the Bay Area Ski Bus
By Rachel Friedman
In my short time living in the Bay Area, I have met my fair share of skiers and snowboarders. Having recently moved from Vail, Colorado, I welcome any conversation that has to do with snow. Transportation to Lake Tahoe comes up often. Living five minutes away from the mountain, transportation was never a problem. But it is a true dilemma for a lot of Bay Area residents. And THIS is where the Bay Area Ski Bus comes into play. For all you skiers and snowboarders who don’t own a car or have a ride for the weekend, the BASB has got your back. With three different trip options, there is something for everyone: the One Day Trip ($109), the 2-Day Hotel Trip ($269), and the 2-Day Ski House Trip ($389). My boyfriend, Mike, and I were lucky enough to spend a recent weekend in North Lake Tahoe, courtesy of the BASB and their hospitable crew. We sampled part of the One Day Trip and part of the 2-Day Ski House Trip.
Since we had to catch the bus at 5am, we dragged ourselves out of sweet slumber to the bus pick up. Riding the BASB let us catch up on the rest of our much-needed sleep. There’s a lot to be said about curling up in a ball to catch some zzzz, knowing that when you awake, the mountain will be waiting for you. An hour out from Squaw, our hosts, Kelly and Loretta, woke us with bagels, Danishes, yogurt, and juice to fuel our adventure for the day. YUM!
The bus parked close to the base area and the hosts swiftly passed out our ski tickets and gave us instructions for the day. Mike and I got in a full day of riding, though the conditions weren’t exactly what we had hoped. Dreams of pow turns will have to wait for another trip. At 3:30pm, the BASB hosts set up an après ski spread with wine, beer, hot chocolate, and snacks. If we had driven ourselves up to Tahoe, having a couple of cocktails after riding all day wouldn’t be ideal, but with the BASB, all we would have to do is get on the bus and watch movies until we got home.
Instead of getting on the bus back to San Francisco, we hopped on the van to the Ski House in Tahoe Donner with our host, Nick. We stopped at the grocery store so we and the other guests could pick up some dinner supplies. The house was cozy, and everyone in our group of eight had a room. It was a great atmosphere for meeting potential new ski buddies. We soaked in the hot tub, played pool, ate dinner, and just hung out. Brad, the caretaker, and our hosts, Nick and Kelly, added a great dynamic to the group. In the morning, they cooked breakfast before we headed out to Sugar Bowl. Because our group was small, our timing was flexible, and we didn’t feel rushed. The van dropped us off right at the base of Sugar Bowl and we spent the day exploring this hidden gem of a mountain.
If you want to go shred the mountains of Tahoe, the Bay Area Ski Bus offers an efficient, organized, and laid-back experience. You’ll feel relaxed and you can get all the days you need on the hill. Check out the Bay Area Ski Bus for dates and prices. Follow me on Twitter @RachShredGnar.
Sam Cox talks with Robb Gaffney about GNAR, family, work and the risks involved with professional skiers today. Sam is a Bozeman resident, smoke jumper and author of Stepping Up, a guide to skiing the Ridge at Bridger Bowl.
by Geoff Forcier
As we all know the weather finally looks to be changing in Tahoe to more reflect the date on the calendar. This could not come at a better time. I have been in Tahoe almost three weeks and my experience thus far has been a little strange to say the least. Let me explain.
I had spent ten years in Summit County Colorado where I enjoyed life as a typical mountain town dude. Breckenridge to be exact and though life was challenging at times, the lifestyle was excellent. The small community of kindred spirits was truly a great thing to be a part of. From powder days to endless single-track, river trips and hut trips, the life was worth all the challenges.
After many years of braving long cold winters my wife and I felt the calling for warmer climes and a new adventure. We decided to relocate to the San Francisco Bay Area and started exploring and enjoying the high quality of life in the Wine Country. The Bay Area (most of it anyway) is fantastic with access to most anything you are looking for. This includes the mountains as I could be in the parking lot of Squaw Valley in three hours from my house. This allowed for a handful of ski days over the last couple of years but the six hour round trip was starting to get old. My wife and I enjoyed the Bay Area but missed the mountain lifestyle and started throwing around the idea of checking out Tahoe. Unlike Breck, Tahoe has this large blue body of water that is a totally new dimension. After a new opportunity presented itself we finally had the impetus to pull the trigger and make the move. We arrived in North Lake Tahoe on December 29th. Needless to say something was a little off.
As a passionate skier I was looking forward to being in close proximity to a multitude of chairlifts, apre ski bars and some of the most accessible backcountry anywhere. I was pumped. I acquired my Squalpine pass, dialed my kit and started soaking in any type of multimedia to get the stoke going. It was actually a small blessing for us that it was a slow start to the season as moving our life in the middle of a Tahoe tempest would have been challenging to say the least. But I thought to myself that as soon as I moved the last box of junk into our Tahoe City rental the skies were welcome to open up and get the party started. Well, as we all know, that has not happened.
I had been here before. We had our slow starts in Breck for sure. But this was different. This was really slow. I didn’t know any different. For all I knew this was normal in Tahoe. It did not take long to realize that this was not normal, at all. So although I was jonesing as hard as anyone for powder skiing, I started to observe the effects of this on the community. There has been the obvious impact on the local economy. It has been tough. No snow, no people, no business, no work. It is felt everywhere. That being said I have been amazed by the POM (positive mental attitude) displayed by most of the people I have met thus far. Confidence that the snow will come has barely waned. People seem to be holding on and making the best of it. From ice skating on perfect glassy ice found on the multitude of small lakes dotting the landscape to cycling and hiking. It is my understanding that backcountry ice skating such as what we have experienced this season happens only every 15 years or so. I feel fortunate to have hit this one dead on. I even observed one die hard playing golf in Kings Beach. I also attended a super fun “pray for snow” car wash. A friend who, upon realizing this was going to be an extended drought, loaded his touring bicycle and put in 1000 miles around the entire Sierra Nevada. He called it making the best of a bad situation.
So here I sit watching every weather forecast known to man and from what I can tell we are about to get things started, hopefully. To be honest I won’t truly believe it until I see the stuff falling from the sky and accumulating on my deck. But I have a POM and am looking forward to putting my truck into four wheel drive for the first time this year. I know we need a lot to really get it going but you have to start somewhere right?
The point I wanted to make was that I do not regret my move, at all. I to have gained confidence that this ski season will be salvaged and we will all get to make powder turns soon. So in the meantime I will be keeping my eye on the sky and waxing my boards. Thank you to everyone who has helped welcome Amy and me to Tahoe and we look forward to experiencing with you everything this amazing place has to offer. We hope to see you at the Chamois. Cheers!
Freeskier Jamie Pierre was killed in an avalanche at Snowbird Utah last Sunday. Snowbird is not open for skiing yet but touring is accepted because the ski area operates on US Forest service land. Pierre was largely known for his massive cliff jumping exploits which tended to overshadow his overall prowess in the sport of skiing which included notable first descents in Alaska and impressive freestyle airs. Ironically, friends reported a conscious effort from Pierre (38) to tone down his aggressive skiing for the sake of his family.
I never met Shane McConkey.
In the last few years of his life, when he was arguably at the top of his game pioneering ski culture and industry, I was a minor league professional quarterback playing on teams from Canada to Germany. However, I had begun spending off-seasons with my brother in a small Idaho mountain town and increasingly the winter alpine became my path, time on the gridiron my day job.
Six months after Shane’s death I played my final football game and promptly moved to Squaw Valley to officially trade cleats for ski boots. And though I knew his name, the true story of the man would reveal itself only with time.
When the first Powder Magazine of my first Squaw Valley winter hit shelves, the cover and half of the entire issue was devoted to the life and legacy of “The Most Influential Skier Ever”; it was nothing short of a biography. I was enthralled to learn of Shane’s magnetic personality, innovative spirit, and transformative skiing prowess. I devoured every word and somehow felt an innate connection to the man.
I thought it was cool that like me he grew up on the coast of California and became not surfer but skier. I smiled when I read it was a big deal for Shane to finally beat his mom down the hill, as ‘ma’ was my childhood ski buddy too.
I learned that he skied in the US Ski Team developmental program but began to prefer cliffs and couloirs to gates and bumps. He followed his passion for freeskiing with unwavering belief, disregarding those in the early 90s who said there was no future to be had in such a discipline. That really jived with me after listening to those who thought I was crazy to stop playing football at age 27 to become a bellman and a ski bum.
I laughed my ass off at his antics and exploits – fake falls, running into doors on purpose, snorting spaghetti up his nose and spitting it out his mouth. I laughed so hard on the can while reading about his naked spread eagle at Vail that my new roommate inquired with some concern to make sure “everything was alright.”
In the mid 90s Shane moved to Squaw and really began pioneering the freeskiing movement. A friend from work lent me the classic Scott Gaffney films, Walls of Freedom and 1999. I watched on repeat a ponytailed Shane tearing up Squaw and the Tahoe backcountry before my buddy politely asked for his DVDs back. I smiled through the entire G.N.A.R chapter of Squallywood. I got my hands on some footage of his character “Saucer Boy” – the whiskey-drinking snowlerblading-dimwit who Shane created for MSP to highlight the fact that professional skiing was taking itself a bit too seriously. Twelfth Night is my favorite of Shakespeare’s comedies, and Shane was indeed, “wise enough to play the fool.”
He thought outside every box. He skied down AK peaks on water skis and constantly used his creativity and inner drive to further ski development. He never submitted to the naysayers who said that fat skis would never be practical. He threw back-flips off anything and skied the rowdiest lines with power, grace, and humility. He dove into base jumping, began to take flight in wing suits, and powered the sport of SkiBase. In his own lifetime, he became Legend.
Then one day he jumped off a cliff in Italy and a binding-release malfunction caused a loss of control, and Shane McConkey fell to his death. The entire ski world, shocked and heartbroken, had lost their leader.
Yet as I began to meet people who had actually known the man during his life I realized that Shane’s legend would never die. Everyone had something good to say about him, from close friends to those who were lucky enough to once ride on the same chairlift. And every time I asked folks about him they inevitably tilted their head back and smiled with sweet remembrance before answering with some unique and wonderful story. He had positively influenced so many lives – from professional skiers to the kid from The Make a Wish Foundation whose wish was merely to ski a day with Shane. “Thank you Shane” bumper stickers dotted the parking lot, and for good reason.
For this undaunted man heard his inner voice very clearly, following it with an authenticity of which most only dream. He lived a life unfettered by societal snares, and he inspired people to move beyond the ephemeral to seek Truth.
Shane McConkey’s passing has not diminished his influence. Rather, like the apotheosized kings and prophets of myth his story has become greater in death – a real life Obiwan to our Luke – guiding all of us who venture into the mountains to seek our peace.
This past March 26 while skiing Squaw on the two year anniversary of his death I gazed up at Eagle’s Nest – the 60+ degree crown of KT which now also rightly carries the moniker McConkey’s. In all of my years on this planet I had never actively communed with a member of the deceased. Yet to the spirit of this man whom I never met, I began to speak words of thanks.
I thanked him for living such a passionate life in our so often dispassionate modern world. I thanked him for the imagination, dedication, and vision he gave the sport of skiing. I told him that while I did not know his wife and child personally, I had seen them recently and that they seemed happy.
And in an immeasurable moment, I felt a deep connection to the world. Mountains, snow, and sky became indistinguishable from my own consciousness. Other skiers on the hill, my friends down in the village, a long departed coach from my youth, and my parents were all somehow the interlinked. Things slowed down – at once everything became both hazy and crystal clear – and I wept ancient tears.
Whether or not Shane’s spirit heard my words that day does not matter. The manner in which this man chose to live is what matters. The fact that he still inspires is what matters. The fact that his passion and his memory endure is what matters.
I never met Shane McConkey, but it sure feels like I did. Thanks Shane.