Backcountry Skiing in Lake Tahoe
October 16, 2020
Lake Tahoe is known for many outdoor activities, but skiing and snowboarding might be the most sought after. With over 15 ski resorts, a former Olympic destination, and endless backcountry access, you won’t have to worry about having enough terrain to explore.
We’ll cover ski resorts in the area in another article but for now let’s talk backcountry skiing in the Tahoe National Forest. We will cover ski tours all around the lake, so no matter what part of Tahoe you are visiting you’ll have the info you need for a scenic ski tour right out your front door.
The first thing to know when planning a trip to Tahoe is when to expect snow. This can be a challenge as snowstorms have been known to hit the area as early as September and as late as July. In order to have the best chances for a solid base, frequent storms, and consistently colder weather you will want to set your timing between December and March. That being said, some hardcore locals will tell you there are turns to be had every month of the year in Tahoe, if you know where to look!
Now it’s time to get into the good stuff. Below you will find our favorites broken down by area. Do your research, get your avy training and equipment, and stay safe.
Donner Lake is Truckee’s version of Lake Tahoe and you tend to get less crowds but equally amazing views high above the town of Truckee. Starting from donner summit you ascend to Donner Peak and drop through a notch giving you access to what can be great powder skiing amongst perfectly spaced trees. As you descend you will come to abandoned train tunnels where you will transition from skiing to walking through a pitch black, icy tunnel until there is a slight opening in the side of one of the walls. This is where you exit and prepare for another drop into playful terrain. Once you reach the bottom it’s time to grab the car you shuttled and head back up to the top to retrieve the other vehicle for an epic outing!
Looking for casual, low angle powder turns where you can run laps until you’re legs are burning? Sunrise bowl has off the road access above Truckee in the Tahoe Donner neighborhood. The tour up takes 25-30 minutes and there is a wonderful bowl with fun trees during the descent. Get up early if you want first tracks as people set the skin track pretty early on this local classic.
Tahoe’s West Shore has many beautiful peaks, but Rubicon’s pointed top always sticks out across the skyline. The skin track winds itself through lichen covered conifers and rolling slopes, giving you a taste for what the descent will be like. Once you arrive at the summit you have unparalleled views of Lake Tahoe and you’ll understand why skiers have been attracted to the Tahoe Basin for decades. Not only are you in for a scenic and relatively safe descent, this area can hold powder stashes for a week after a descent storm.
A great option for skiers who wants options. Multiple sun angles, and a reasonable drive from anywhere on the Lake, Jakes is popular for a reason. Prepare for steep tree skiing or open bowls on this classic Tahoe ski descent. Be ready for crowds unless you’re there early, but even if you have to share the views with a few new friends, things could be worse.
This skiing area on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe is a great destination for higher elevation skiing when other places around the Lake might be a bit too warm. Sitting close to 10,000 feet, you have ample opportunity for powder turns galore! With multiple options on decsent such as Hourglass Bowl or Galena Bowl, it’s easy to find fresh tracks while looking across to the Mt. Rose ski resort in the distance. Another accessible route, that deposits you right back at the car makes this one good for running laps.
If you want to knock out two Tahoe classic outing’s in one – Maggies (North or South) Peak should be on your list. Sitting high above the famed Emerald Bay, you’ll get better views than if you’re hiking in the State Park below. On top of getting views of this majestic cove on Lake Tahoe, the skiing is exciting, accessible, and steep in spots. Prepare for about 2 hours to ascend 2-3 miles and take in the scenery as you go!
The Southern shores of Lake Tahoe are dreamy backcountry skiing destinations and Mt. Tallac might be it’s crown jewel. While most people descend the the North Bowl, this mountain offers descents for everyone in your party – from steep chutes to open powder fields. Make sure you’re ready to put in the work as you’ll need to push through at least 5 miles on the skin track to reach the top!
Wherever you go in the Tahoe region make sure you take the time to check the local snowpack, do you route research, check weather forecasts and bring your safety equipment. The Tahoe region offers so much amazing terrain with even better views, so get out there and find the goods!