Adventures in Driving to Tahoe

After looking at Friday’s forecast for new snow in Lake Tahoe, my friends Kyle and Dan convinced me to leave at 5am on Friday to get in a good day of skiing/snowboarding at Kirkwood before driving back that evening. It was a good plan, and we were confident that it would lead to a full day of great snowboarding conditions with relatively few people on the slopes. Unfortunately, Nature had several other ideas for how we were to spend our time.

We left reasonably close to the 5am goal and made record time to the central valley, but after making our way up into the hills, things got interesting: a regular blizzard was in session, and the roads were soon quite treacherous after the snow was compacted by tires in the sub-freezing temperatures. At one point we were stopped on a slight incline behind traffic, and when it was time to go, the Civic refused to move forward–traction had disappeared. Luckily, the car behind us happened to be a police officer and so he held traffic while I mustered all my clutch ability and eased into first gear and then to the side of the road where we put chains on the tires for the rest of the climb.

It soon became apparent, as the snow kept piling up, that we were going to have serious problems, and it was indeed so: the pass to Kirkwood was closed for avalanche control, and so we were out of luck. Determined to get on some mountain, we went all the way back down and took another road, intending to find Bear Valley, a lesser resort. The pass was not quite as high on that road, so there was a good chance it wouldn’t be closed, and it wasn’t!

Of course, though open, the road was still dangerous and the going was slow. Even with chains, the car would slide and fishtail with anything but minor changes in velocity or minor turns of the wheel, making it exhausting to drive many miles at such a slow pace. Eventually, though, we made it through the whiteout (parts of which were so white that it was impossible to make out where the road was and where the snowbanks to the sides of it were) and to Bear Valley, where we were able to get 2 hours of snowboarding in before the slopes closed.

I was exhausted from 7+ hours of driving, and I hadn’t been on a board since 2004, so I had quite a few amazing spills–none of which were very dangerous, given the multiple feet of fresh powder there to break my fall! So we had a crazy fun time careening down the mountain and trying to make the most of our short time. Here you can see the snow that accumulated on my car after just that short time (and this was just the residual, post-storm effect):

Another 5 hours of driving (not including the horrendous chain installation/removal events which definitely tried our collective patience), and we were back–a very long, very intense, not-too-snowboarding-filled day! But you have to love these little adventures.

By Jonathan Lipps

Jonathan worked as a programmer in tech startups for several decades, but is also passionate about all kinds of creative pursuits and academic discussion. Jonathan has master’s degrees in philosophy and linguistics, from Stanford and Oxford respectively, and is working on another in theology. An American-Canadian, he lives in Vancouver, BC and has way too many hobbies.

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