By Tim Hauserman

Big winters like this one are a perfect opportunity to combine two of Tahoe’s favorite pastimes: Downhill skiing and water skiing. Homewood Mountain Resort happens to be the perfect place to make it happen, so they are continuing a tradition that has been going on for 15 years with the Gates and Wakes competition on April 6th. 

Sponsored by Superior Boat and Repair, Gates and Wakes supports the High Fives Foundation   Participants first race gates for two runs each at Homewood. Then in the afternoon, the water skiing segment commences across the highway at Homewood High and Dry Marina.  Racers will take turns executing turns on Lake Tahoe behind Superior Boat’s Ski Nautique.

Competitors need to bring their own skis, both snow and water, and their own wetsuit for the water ski portion. Given that the temperature will be in the 50s, a wetsuit is pretty darn essential. It will be the combined snow and water skier that will win the competition. As Homewood says: “The top three places will be rewarded with unlimited bragging rights, prizes, and a trophy.”

Fees: $45 for Homewood Season Pass Holder, $95 for non-passholder. Registration includes both events and lunch is included in the fee. There is also a two day pro challenge entry for $150. The pro-challenge starts with a two round slalom waterski completion in Rio Linda, CA on April 5th, followed by the Gates and Wakes at Homewood on April 6th. 

By Tim Hauserman

Yes, sports fans, it’s time once again for Tahoe’s favorite fall activity: Predict how big a winter it will be! Of course while no one knows anything, even the weather forecasters, we still like to come up with rationale for why this winter will be big! This fall the most popular are: A) it wasn’t big last year, so it should be big this year. B) The squirrels around my house are going bonkers collecting more fir cones then I ever, and of course, the most popular reason underlying reason amongst skiers C) Because I want there to be lots of snow for skiing!

One of my go to weather sources, Brian Allegretto from Opensnow recently said this about the coming winter: “The long-range models are not very reliable, less so the further out they go.  The CFSv2 has below average precip for CA through January. Then it has above average precipitation starting in February.” In other words, while meteorologists are getting pretty dang good at predicting weather 10 days out, long term forecasting is still pretty much a crap shoot.

Another thing that people talk about this time of year is: I just want an average winter! Well if you remember from statistics class average precipitation is the total divided by the number of years. So if you have a year with 200 inches and a year with 100 inches the average for the two years is 150 inches. Except getting an “average” amount of snowfall in the Sierra is actually quite rare. If you look at the chart on the back of the dam at Fanny Bridge you will see that the vast majority of years give us way more snow or way less than the average. Over the last hundred years you can count on your two hands how many years were actually pretty close to average. The rest were copious snow and rain producers that made us plead for a break, or winters where we were begging for snow.

So I guess all we can do is hope. Here is what I wish for: A few rainstorms in October and November to wet down the dust. No major snow storms until about Thanksgiving so we don’t waste snow when it will just melt, then a healthy set of storms by early December to set up a nice base for Christmas. Good snow off and on through January and February to continue building up a base, but not so we are shoveling more then skiing. Then springtime melt for good spring skiing and snow melted in time for mountain biking in May.

By Tim Hauserman 

My bike cut its way down the steep switchbacks then rolled swiftly through the thick manzanita to the spectacular viewpoint above Lake Tahoe. To my left sat a row of houses, perched on top of the hill, below lay a thick mantle of low lying brush, and further down, a dense forest of trees.  Past the trees, a view of much of Tahoe’s west shore with snow capped Mt. Tallac serving as a centerpiece. This spot is now one of my favorite places to get off my bike and take in Tahoe’s grandeur.  Eleven years earlier on a windy summer day, a fire roared up this hill and nearly took out hundreds of home just a mile as the crow flies from Tahoe City. 

On August 18th, 2007 I was given the rare opportunity to crew for my brother Dan Hauserman on his sailboat in the Wednesday night sailing races. It was an extremely windy day and as we set sail from Lake Forest towards Homewood for the race, we saw a thick, dark cloud of smoke coming from the west shore. Just two months earlier, The Angora Fire had burned over 250 homes on Tahoe’s south shore, so the spectacle was particularly terrifying.  

At first we couldn’t tell exactly where the fire was and where it was going. My thoughts were with my teenage daughter home alone in Ward Canyon, another daughter at work in Tahoe City and my wife who was holding an open house at a cabin in Tahoe Park, just a half mile from where the fire started. Where was the fire going and were any of them in danger?

We could see bright flashes of wind driven flames, as we struggled to keep the boat flat in the relentless gale. A helicopter arrived dumping water, and we began pleading to the sky: “More planes, bigger planes…and while you are at it, rain and less wind!”  Once we had sailed to just a 1/2 mile off shore of the fire it was still hard to determine exactly where the fire was, but we could see the wind was driving it towards Tahoe City, and that hundreds of homes were in its path.

We reached Homewood about the time we learned the sailboat race had been cancelled since Highway 89 was closed for the fire. As we sailed our way back our eyes were glued to the fire, unable to tell whether it was getting worse or the firefighters were slowly getting a handle on it. That night, I stayed with my daughter in Tahoe City while we waited for the road to open so we could get to our home on the west shore. We realized there was nothing we could do, except hope. 

The fire started when high winds reignited a charcoal BBQ on Washoe Way along the edge of Tahoe Park. The fire burned several houses on Washoe Way before racing up the hill through thick forest to burn three houses on the edge of Tahoe Woods Blvd. It then continued into the forest adjacent to the development. Fortunately, that forest that had been extensively thinned to reduce fire danger just the year before, which slowed the fire down so that fire fighters were able to get it under control.

Over the next few years, the burned trees were removed, and manzanita and other quick growing bushes grew where the trees had been. New homes replaced those that were burned, and a new trail appeared which headed from where the pavement ended on Tahoe Woods Blvd, past the new lake view where my bike and I rested, and then ascended to Page Meadows.

To the casual observer who doesn’t know the history, where the fire occurred just looks like a hillside slope with brush instead of trees, and a place where several new homes have been built in the last eleven years. For those who know the story, it’s a reminder of the terror that can be caused by a forest fire, of the reason why the forests are managed to reduce fire danger, and by the power of the land to recover and recreate itself. 

By Tim Hauserman

While skiers and snowboarders would prefer more snow, there are still plenty of fun things to do in Tahoe the rest of February. Here are ten suggestions:

Alpenglow Winter Mountain Festival: Nine days of activities centered on human powered winter recreation. February 17-25. The full calendar of events includes backcountry skiing, snowshoeing, educational programs such as avalanche training and community gatherings including films and presentations.

Olympic watch parties will be held throughout the rest of the Winter Olympics at several Squaw Valley locations, and a Winter Fireworks show will light up the Squaw Valley sky on February 17th.

Crystal Bay Club is the place for music shows every weekend including The Motets and the Monophones, Cascade Cresendo and Hirie with Indubious.

Just above the Crystal Bay Club is the Stateline Lookout. It’s only about a mile and a half hike out and back to one of the most glorious views of Lake Tahoe to be found anywhere. Be sure to catch both views. One looks right over the casinos to much of Lake Tahoe, and the other, which is about 100 feet to the west, is where the lookout used to stand. From there you get a stunning vista towards Kings Beach.

On a calm day, get yourself down to the shoreline at Sugar Pine Point State Park. There, enjoy the incredible peace of Lake Tahoe without a boat to be seen, while keeping your eyes peeled for a bald eagle or osprey.

Another great way to see Lake Tahoe is a stroll along the lake in Tahoe City. Start at Fanny Bridge and the Lake Tahoe Dam and follow the trail to the Commons Beach and then on to the Lake Tahoe Recreation Area. Then head back up to North Lake Blvd. and check out the shops and restaurants of Tahoe City.

Ride your bike along the Truckee River between Tahoe City and Squaw Valley. The bike path has been kept clear this winter, so have at it. Along the way, check out the new bridge across the Truckee River that is being built to access the new Tahoe City bypass road.

Go for a climb: Check out the indoor climbing options at High Altitude Fitness in Incline or Mesa Rim in Reno.

Head to Kings Beach for Get More S’More Saturday February 24th when local businesses provide all sorts of special deals and treats. And if you play your cards right, there will be smores.

Drive around the lake. Usually a drive around the lake in the winter is a challenge, this winter (if you time it right) it’s a breeze. Check out the views of Emerald Bay, Cave Rock and Sand Harbor. Don’t forget to get out and take a few short hikes along the way.

By Tim Hauserman

We were having one of those winters. No, not one of those winters like last year where we had so much snow we didn’t know what to do with it. More like one of THOSE winters from three years ago, when it seemed like the snow would never arrive…and then finally, a good storm brought close to a foot of light powder at lake level. Whew, while I was enjoying the bike riding and hiking that was going on, January is time for skiing.

For those of us in the cross country ski world it was insta winter. Tahoe XC opened for business, children again could be heard laughing as they kept busy skiing around on the trails with their Strider Glider buddies, and I had to get off my article and blog writing posterior and get on my skis and attempt to get in shape.

My first ski of the year at Tahoe XC was with a group of 3rd-5th graders. The snow was cold and still softly coming down, the trees were covered in thick layers of white frosting, and I realized once again that skate skiing is my favorite sport in the whole world. The gentle rhythm of legs and arms, core, and every other body part having to move together to make you glide peacefully over snow cannot be beat. For me, it is instant therapy. And since we had to wait so long for the snow to arrive, everybody who was out skiing had a monster smile on their face.

This morning, I remembered another part of cross country skate skiing. It’s a real workout. There was a great deal of creaking and moaning going on when I got out of bed. But I also was so happy to be skiing again, and chomping at the bit to get out skiing, even if it was a challenge to reach all the way down to the top of my boots to put them on. And then before I knew it (well actually I knew, because it was a big climb) I was at this view at the top of the Lakeview Trail. Yeah, baby. It doesn’t get any better.

I will say this. Given how much snow we received and the forecast for warm temperatures later in the week I would carpe diem and get out skiing today, because there are no guarantees how long that snow will be hanging on. Enjoy!

by Tim Hauserman

Since the first few smaller winter storms are now under our belt, it’s time to move from road construction season to controlled burn season. In an effort to reduce the potential for a catastrophic fire in the Tahoe region, a slew of government land managers conduct controlled burns each fall and into the winter to reduce the amount of fuel that could feed a fire, or to stop a fire in it’s tracks when it happens.

For the most part a controlled burn is the last stage of a tree thinning project. The larger trees are removed for lumber or firewood, and the smaller trees and brush are assembled into piles. These piles sit out to dry anywhere from a few months to a few years until the burning agencies have the time and the right atmospheric conditions to burn the piles. In Tahoe, that means once the fire danger has abated but before multiple feet of snow cover the ground. Frequently you will see the fires light up just before an impending storm, which allows the fuel load to be reduced and a high level of assurance that the precipitation coming in will be sure to put the fire out.

The best evidence I’ve seen of the importance of reducing the fuel load in the Tahoe basin was the Washoe Fire near Sunnyside ten years ago. The fire started from a BBQ on a back deck on Washoe Blvd in the Tahoe Park area. Heave winds raced the fire up the hill through thick forest into the neighborhoods above. The fire had burned six homes in a short time and many more were threatened, all the way to downtown Tahoe City, when it entered an area which had recently been thinned and the fire fighters were able to get a handle on it.

In the Tahoe basin Lake Valley, North Lake Tahoe and Tahoe Douglas fire protection districts, as well as California State Parks, California Tahoe Conservancy and the U.S. Forest Service are all set to burn in the next few weeks, including in these locations:

D.L. Bliss State Park
Carnelian Bay
Kings Beach
Incline Village
Diamond Peak Ski Resort area
Upper and Lower Kingsbury Grade
Near Lake Tahoe airport