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Skiing at Lake Tahoe

Just three hours northwest of the Bay Area, in the Sierra Nevada, lies Lake Tahoe. Nestled on the border between California and Nevada, Tahoe is one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world. It is highly renowned in California for its skiing in winter and pleasant vacationing in summer. It is the ski destination of choice for many in the Bay Area.

The view out of our front door in Truckee

Soon after my return to Berkeley from the Christmas holiday, a friend mentioned that a small group was heading up to Tahoe to ski at the Northstar resort over a weekend. He kindly invited me along, and so indeed I did. Another friend generously lent me his waterproof pants and ski jacket, whilst I organised to rent skis, ski boots, and a helmet at the ski resort.

Downtown Truckee at 7:30 in the morning, just during breakfast.

We stayed in a little town called Truckee (such an American town name!) on the north side of Lake Tahoe. Reportedly the 5th snowiest town in the US, Truckee was blanketed with white when we pulled in on a Friday afternoon, and our rented condo was surrounded by deep snowfalls. There's something about snow that entices Australians. Maybe because it's such a foreign concept to many of us. The last time I went skiing was eight years ago; on my school's annual ski trip for students in Year 11. Since the school was located deep in country New South Wales, it was an eleven hour bus trip to reach the Australian ski fields, situated in the aptly named Snowy Mountains southwest of Sydney and Canberra. We spent four days on the slopes at Thredbo, and by the end I was competently skiing on intermediate (blue) level runs. But, as Australia is quite a warm country, snow falls can vary greatly. The official ski season is a relatively short 3-4 months (from June to October each year). In contrast, the Tahoe resorts stay open for closer to six months (November to April, and sometimes May), and most lie at a much higher elevation than Australian resorts. I was quite excited to get to see snow again - and to see it in a more acceptable location.

The road to Northstar resort from Truckee

We skied at the Northstar ski resort, just ten minutes out of Truckee. I had booked a lesson on the first day at 10:30 to refresh my ski legs. As the ski lifts were open from 8am to 4pm, we were aiming to get there as early as possible - particularly since three of us had to pickup our pre-ordered rental gear, and also to get some practice in before the lesson. Unfortunately, some navigational errors (thanks Apple Maps) took us down the wrong drive at Northstar, so we ended up being slightly late on the first morning. This was compounded by the long lines for gear rental, so we only hit the mountain right as the lesson was due to start. Already, the fields were packed, and lines were starting to form for the chair lifts up the mountain.

The lesson took place on the easiest slope at the resort, and thankfully, I soon found that skiing was a little like riding a bike. First, we went through the basics of snow-ploughing ("wedging" in American parlance), where you ski with the front of yours skis turned towards one another to control your forward momentum. As your skis are at an angle to the snow, they "grip" and increase the friction, slowing you down. It's the simplest skiing technique, and the one most associated with amateur skiers since it's very easy to keep yourself from accelerating. Once we had (re-)mastered this, we moved onto the bread and butter of advanced skiing - the parallel turn. This move is where you keep your skis parallel to one another, rather than turned in. There's less friction, so you move faster, and the turn itself is what keeps you from accelerating down the mountain too quickly. I managed to get back to parallel turning later that first afternoon, and was back happily skiing the easy (green) runs after the lesson. 

Lake Tahoe

After lunch on the first day, we stepped it up slightly, tackling blue (intermediate) runs. The first one we tried was much too steep for my liking (it was aptly titled "Drop Off"). The thing with steeper slopes is that you accelerate faster in your parallel turns, and it's more difficult to complete the turn to bring your speed under control. I managed to make it down intact, and we ratcheted down the difficulty a little, tackling easier blue runs to build confidence to end the day. After a very early breakfast at a diner in Truckee, the second day was spent skiing almost essentially nonstop. We took several runs from the very top of the mountain at Northstar, which was blessed with a truly spectacular view of Lake Tahoe - deep blue, unfrozen despite the chill, and simply beautiful in the sunshine. Whilst there were some steep sections of runs that I wasn't much a fan of, I didn't fall over very often, and thoroughly enjoyed the more challenging runs. We managed to be on one of the last lifts up to the top of the mountain on both days, skiing all the way back down to the bottom is relatively peace and quiet as the slopes emptied.

Tahoe is an amazing place to ski. It's absolutely beautiful with excellent snow. I had a fantastic time, and came back glad that my ski legs had returned so quickly despite the years. I'll definitely make sure that my next skiing trip isn't as long after the last as this one was.

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