I bought a Mountain Collective pass this year for a trip to SLC in February and wanted to make some use of it over a the MLK weekend. I did some research on flights and accommodations, trying to find the easiest and cheapest way to make it work. My options were Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows, Sun Valley, and Taos. In the end SV/AM won out with the fairly inexpensive flights into Reno with less than an hour drive to Truckee and reasonable prices on private rooms on Airbnb. The flight to Reno required a couple of layovers and a lot of travel time, but I made it with no real hiccups. I arrived at my bed at 11:30 PST (2:30 EST) after a full day of work and a very full day of travel. I was beat.
Day 1 had me up early to make it to Squaw Valley before the likely chaos of a holiday weekend. In an effort to avoid the potential traffic that I had read so much about, and also to keep my body on EST. I was at the mountain a couple hours early and got some coffee and cookies at Wildflour. I enjoyed this strategy and would recommend it; the cookie lived up to the hype. The forecast was for intermittent clouds and sun with a potential for rain and mixed precip. Temperatures were to sit just above freezing all day. The day started out with low visibility and I got in line for the Gold Coast Funitel. I kept going up and hopped on the Emmigrant chair to the top. Winds were whipping, visibility was nearly non-existent and I went down towards the Granite Chief area.
Granite Chief is very similar to the Darkside at Gore. No groomed terrain other than cat-tracks, and an old-school fixed-grip chair that had been painted black a couple years ago with limited padding. The terrain in that area is a relatively open and steep bowl with great trees surrounding it. It was challenging to get my bearings with the low-vis and especially heavy snow. Sierra Cement is not a myth, it is real, and over five feet of it had fallen in the four days preceding my arrival. As I tried to manage my way through the incredibly wet and heavy snow on some steep terrain, I decided to get my legs together on some more mellow stuff. I played around the Shirley and Solitude lifts for a couple runs before making my way back down to base.
From there I made my way back down to base and went over to the Red Dog area. I had heard there were some fun lines and nice trees in this area which I found to be accurate. The snow was still heavy, but once it had been cut up it was much more fun and manageable.
I bounced around between the different lifts in this area before heading over to the Headwall and KT22 lifts for some of the steeper stuff. Yes, it was steep. There were some serious lines and chutes, but it was a little less intimidating than I had built up in my head. I finished the day with some beers on the patio with the couple that I met and skied with and cruised back to my room, about a half an hour away, on the east-side of Truckee.
Day 2 took me to Sugar Bowl up north on Donner Pass. I had two days on the MCP and 50% off on extra days. With the window ticket price being so high ($170!!!) I decided to just go rogue and ski wherever I wanted. I was between Sugar Bowl, Mt. Rose, and Donner Ski Ranch. Donner was closed due to storm weather, and Sugar Bowl was my choice. I found out later that most of Squaw Valley was on hold for a lot of the day also. I stopped for breakfast at a western style diner on the main street in Truckee and was happy to see that all breakfast was half-off before 7:30. After some biscuits and gravy, I made my way through Donner Lake and up Donner Pass.
It was raining the whole ride up and I had pretty low expectations for the day. As I parked the car and loaded into the lodge, there was a big crack of lightning and I found out that lifts were on hold until at least 9 AM. I got a coffee and sat in front of the fire in the beautiful craftsman furniture located in the lodge. I explored the lodge and considered my options. I waited it out and at about 10 am the rain turned to snow/sleet and I bought a ticket. It was full-on storm skiing.
Heavy precipitation, strong gusts, but great terrain. The snow was heavy cream cheese but traffic was low and refills were quick so it was actually great skiing outside of the low visibility and heavy precip. Fat skis and full goretex were necessary for a fun day, but I was well equipped and I had a much better day than I would have expected. It was a really fun mountain with an interesting lift set-up. There were some pretty gnarly chutes and cliffs right under the Mt. Disney Express that looked like they would be great skiing under better conditions. The low-angle tree-skiing on Mt. Judah side was fantastic. At one point I accidentally wound up out-of-bounds and at the top of Lake Mary with a short bushwack back to the bunny hill. I went to take a few more laps off the Mt. Disney chair and they shut the lifts down for another lightning strike that I didn't notice. At that point it was 3 o'clock and I had gotten in a great day of skiing. On my way out, chain controls were at the top of Donner Pass. Fortunately I had purchased a set when I picked up supplies at the beginning of the trip. It was definitely type 2 fun getting the chains on, but it wasn't horrible.
I stopped at Truckee Brewing on the way back and enjoyed their Robust Porter.
The storm from the day before intensified overnight and stopped at about 5 am. Temperatures had dropped pretty consistently over the 24 hour storm period and wound up in the low 20's which made for a great layer of snow. There had been about 5" in Truckee, a foot at the base of Squaw Valley, about 2' at the top, and 18" or so at the top of KT-22.
I was in the KT22 line first thing and wound up 4th in the singles line. Everyone was excited, the sun was out, and the vibes were good as we watched patrol doing avy control and trying to trigger slides. Mornings like that certainly make patrolling look fun.
The only bad part about being so early in line was that I didn't get to watch anyone send it over The Fingers.
I had 5th or 6th tracks down Mosely's which was just sublime. Over a thousand feet of super steep terrain with 18" of clean snow. That was definitely a bucktlist run, worth standing in line for. I went over to Red Dog next to try and find a shorter line and followed a youth freestyle team and their coaches on a quick skate across a ridge to some untracked face in between KT and Red Dog.
From there I went to the Funitel and then up to Emmigrant.
I caught some great tracks down the Funnel to Granite Chief and did 3 or 4 laps off that chair. The highlight of that was going far lookers right, almost to the boundary, and finding some fantastic untracked widely spaced glades with some great steep rollers.
From there on out, it was trying to find good lines and help develop the inevitable bumps. Headwall, KT 22, Red Dog, and Squaw Creek. There was a lot of traffic, but none of the lines got too crazy outside of KT-22.
I finished up the day bouncing around the Red Dog area. Even though this is known for being one of the mellower areas, there are some really wild gullies that were a blast to ski.
All in, it was a great trip and I would definitely do it again. Booking trips months early can be dicey, especially in a place like Tahoe where the snow has been less consistent in the last few years. The 7 day snow total with the four days prior to my trip and the three days I was there was over 80". I skied some really interesting terrain, lucked out with conditions and the crowds were smaller than expected. I got to ski spring conditions, storms, and a great powder day. I would have liked to make it to Alpine Meadows, but I guess I'll just have to go back.
This was a great report
Love reading and seeing pics from a area we don't usually see..
"Peace and Love"
Great trip, made me miss the place all over again. I lived about half a mile from Donner Lake when I was there, right near where you drove through. Definitely get to Alpine if you go back but it looks like you had a great time.
Thanks for sharing.
"You want your skis? Go get 'em!" -W. Miller