Taking on Tahoe
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.