Skiing in ShortsMike Montalbano, April 13, 2020 in
As shelter-in-place continues across CA new snow continues to fall in North Lake Tahoe. Closures of the ski resorts were inevitably, as strict guidelines limiting group congregating were imposed. Throwing on the Alpine Touring equipment and finding fresh snow in the vast Tahoe backcountry has been a great release mechanism: equal parts exercise, isolation, and fuel for the soul. But this does not feel like normal.
With the spring shoulder season officially here focus can’t help but shift towards the myriad of awaiting summer activities. While it’s always fun to play an afternoon round of golf, go for a mountain bike ride, or hang on the shores of Lake Tahoe as Bucky repeatedly fetches a ball the activity I’m most looking forward to is more closely associated with winter: backcountry skiing.
Depending on the remaining seasonal snowpack the mid-summer skiing experience is often under appreciated and overlooked. Over the 12 seasons I’ve lived in the region a summer tradition has become my favorite: 4th of July skiing. Some years local resorts stay open for lift accessed terrain. Other years we must earn the turns. Regardless, pining of skiing in the month of July returns me to my happy place.
My personal favorite zone is situated on the West Shore of Lake Tahoe, deep in Blackwood Canyon. Perched atop the Pacific Crest is a prominent rock band. The elevation and north facing orientation are conducive to holding snow late into the summer. The series of vertical shots are known as the Fourth of July Chutes. Some years the gate is open and it’s permissible to drive your car to the Ellis Peak Trailhead parking area. Other years the road is closed and a few mile hike and bike ride are required from the basin floor.
Once at the starting area the ascent begins with a boot pack or skin, depending on the snow depth. Zig zagging up and behind Beehive Peak views of the objective appear. An easy scramble along the ridge spits you atop the various chutes. The feeling of clicking into your skis, the hot summer sun beating down, builds anticipation for the inevitable swish of corn snow. The skiing is only about 600 feet through tight rock walls followed by another 800 feet of open apron, but skiing in shorts… that feels like normal.