Tak­ing on Ta­hoe

Canadian Geographic - - GATEWAY - —Nick Walker

BE­TWEEN MY DAN­GLING skis on “Sil­ver­ado,” a chair­lift on Squaw Val­ley’s wild west side, I watch a neon-or­ange­suited skier pick his way down an icy shelf I’d ear­lier dis­missed as ag­gres­sive back­drop. That’s the thing about this leg­endary re­sort in Lake Ta­hoe, Calif.: skiers miles bet­ter than I pil­grim­age here to put tracks on ev­ery snowy, steep square me­tre, to launch them­selves across jut­ting ge­o­log­i­cal fea­tures called The Fingers, Rock Gar­den or The Pal­isades. Un­like my fa­mil­iar east­ern ski hills, where thick Ap­palachian forests clearly mark bound­aries, this Sier­ran ter­rain is open, a lot of it sparsely treed in a some­times tempt­ing, some­times taunt­ing way. For mid­dling skiers like me, Squaw Val­ley is a chance to progress fast — and to scare your­self a bit. (Also to feast and drink Cal­i­for­nia craft beer in the panoramic, 2,500-me­tre-el­e­va­tion tram-up, ski-out High Camp restau­rant. At this, at least, I’m a nat­u­ral.) And I have an ad­van­tage: Karl Rogne, one of the re­sort’s North Face Moun­tain guides, is tour­ing me through the best late-af­ter­noon spring snow and the more se­cluded, least-rocky black di­a­monds. On the way down, he en­cour­ages me to “arc my turns” more, to not “fight against the hill.” On the chair­lifts he talks about how he came to Lake Ta­hoe in 1997 and, be­cause of the world­class ski­ing and snow­board­ing, love (he met his wife there) and his sum­mer busi­ness coach­ing moun­tain bik­ers, never left. He talks about the famed gran­ite out­crops gov­ern­ing the land­scape and, with a bit of pry­ing, about the re­sort’s clien­tele (Robin Wil­liams was once a reg­u­lar). And be­cause it’s 2017, we talk about all the snow. Just a year since the worst drought in Cal­i­for­nia in 1,200 years, there are moun­tain­sides, even park­ing-lot me­di­ans, where only tree tops break the snow­pack. More than 15 me­tres of the white stuff dumped on Ta­hoe dur­ing the 2016-17 win­ter, which sounds even more im­pres­sive when lo­cals say “over 50 feet!” with pal­pa­ble re­lief, which they do a lot. And did I men­tion it’s March and 20 C? In non-droughty years, it takes so long for the snow cover to melt that July In­de­pen­dence Day events draw crowds to Squaw Val­ley for soggy runs and a fi­nal adieu to the ski sea­son. Be­fore I fol­low Rogne over the edge of a black di­a­mond called the Land Bridge, legs sore but more sure of them­selves than ever, I text a friend who’s been re­lax­ing in the re­sort bar all af­ter­noon. “Go back with­out me,” I tap. “I’ll catch the late shut­tle!” Be­cause now these moun­tains don’t seem so ag­gres­sive.

Spring skiers scout their lines at the top of a run at Squaw Val­ley, west Lake Ta­hoe.

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