Kirkwood to Heavenly
Sitting at home in South Lake Tahoe watching the intense rain pound the meager snowpack that was left at lake level it began to get depressing. Forecasts that said 5 to 10 ft. of fresh weren’t looking to promising. To take my mind off it, I decided to believe the hype and began to focus on ski resort selection for the following day. Looking over the weather maps and reading in between the lines on the scientific forecaster discussions, it seemed that the rain would turn to snow at 7,000 ft. by 10 p.m. and by 1 a.m. it was supposed to drop to 6,000 ft. If you’re not familiar with the area this is just below lake level. Predictions said we should be receiving 6 to 12 in. at the house and over 2 ft. above 7,000. Looking at the models and planning for the next day cheered me up. Before bed the choice was between Sierra-at-Tahoe, Kirkwood, and Heavenly. To add more pressure to the selection process, a friend who works for Airblaster from the Bay Area and his buddy that is heading back to Korea were joining us to ride. We had to make sure to be great hosts and show them a rad time! As a preliminary decision we decided on Kirkwood.
As usual, the weather forecast was off!
The alarm blared at 5:30 a.m. We woke up groggy and yet at the same time, excited for what the day had in store for us. Leaping out of bed we immediately looked outside and our heart sank. The prediction was way off at this level. There were only a few inches on the ground. The good news was our decision to go to Kirkwood still seemed solid. From there it was on to checking the road conditions to see what kind of traveling issues we faced. Uh oh, we found out that the route to Kirkwood was closed due to avalanche control. This should’ve been our red flag and we should have considered a change of plans, which meant hitting Heavenly, but the yearn for deep powder and rugged mountains exceeded our rational. At 6:00 a.m. Coop’s report confirmed that Kirkwood got hammered by the storm. He reported 20 in. overnight and they were expecting another 9 to 13 in. during the day. Shortly after, we got confirmation from Caltrans that Highway 88 was re-open. All the elements were lining up. Based on the updated information we were set on Kirkwood to ride the 50 in. of snow they’d received over the last few days.
The road more traveled…
With the clock ticking we rushed to finish packing the car with all our gear. Even our friends, Elijah and Jongsu (a.k.a. Chester) arrived on time at the crib. With the crew fully assemble it was game on! We began the journey to “The Wood.” Driving through South Lake Tahoe the sides of the road were white, but massive pools of standing water could be seen everywhere reminding all of us on the amount of un-frozen liquid we had received the night before. The road conditions continued to deteriorate as we traveled further and further. Making the final turn onto Highway 88 traffic was decent and in no time we arrived at chain control.
A Prius tries to outrun chain control
In the Sierra Nevada’s, storms come in warm typically with rain or wet snow and leave cold with a decent amount of soft snow to cover the pavement. This is great for making a stable snowpack in the backcountry, but it wreaks havoc on road conditions. To keep everyone safe in these road conditions there is a mandatory check by the Department of Transportation to see if your car is equipped to operate in these conditions. This means having either a 4WD vehicle with snow tires or having snow chains on. This is to keep yourself as well as everyone around you safe. At the chain check, for the first time in my life, I see a car blow through it! Not just any car, it was a Prius! He actually thought he could outrun the cops in this weather. Like a bad comic the car’s wheels spin at 100 mph. as he is moving only 5 mph. Furiously, he tries to drive past them. Fortunately, for all of us the California Highway Patrol was able to pull him over and force him to put on chains. Red flags kept popping up that maybe today wasn’t the day to head to Kirkwood, but we weren’t getting it.
The final sign…
As we are okayed by chain control, a mile up the road we start our climb towards Kirkwood. Instantly, the traffic suddenly comes to a standstill. Sitting in the car waiting, it was lightly snowing. Since we were able to get on the road so early, the traffic was shocking. Speculations were the stoppage could be due to avalanche control or road closure? Immediately we phone the road conditions hotline. It turns out the road is open. After a few minutes we suddenly see a few cars driving by and one of them opens the window and yells “Gapers up there bra. Multiple car accidents gonna be a few hours.” We receive confirmation in the form of the California Highway Patrol rushing passed us to work the accident. After a quick reassessment the decision is made to go to Heavenly. As we turn around there is a line of cars behind us that ranges to approximately 3 miles long! Instantly we know we made the correct decision!
Heavenly or Bust…
Pulling into the Boulder Lodge parking lot at 9:06 am it felt like we had been traveling for days. The weather at Heavenly was a stark contrast to Kirkwood. While it was snowing heavily at Kirkwood the sky at Heavenly was a deep blue with only a hint of clouds rolling over the peaks. Gearing up we start walking to the chairlift and find out that the infamous North Bowl chair wasn’t running. If you want to know why it’s become infamous check out our past article Experience of a Lifetime. With it not running it meant a shuttle ride was in our future. This would be the only way for us to get on the mountain. The crowd for the shuttle becomes restless as more people begin to show up. In the distance a small bus bounces its way to the pickup spot. Thinking that there was enough room for all of us, everyone slowly pushes towards the entrance of the bus. This was wrong. Half our crew didn’t make it aboard and has to wait for the next shuttle. Finally, we all board the shuttle and head our way to the Stagecoach Lodge.
The snow was just like the name, Heavenly …
As we re-group at the base of the lift we quickly hop onto the chair and are whisked upwards. From the lift we look around and inspect the snow. It may not be the 50 in., but it definitely looks good! Confirmation was received as people hoot and holler as they ride down the mountain below us. Exiting from the top we quickly strap in and point it down the slope. Turn after turn comes easily as we slash through the fresh snow. Perma-grin is the expression on all our faces!
Here comes the snow again!
Just like our mood, the weather changes quickly and the storm arrives again at Heavenly. The wind picks up to the point that they shut down Sky Express, which is the only way to get from Nevada to the California side of Heavenly. This translates to crowds dwindling even more. With it snowing lightly and powder to be had everywhere we take face shot after face shot as we slash our way down the mountain. Just like any great adventure the journey made the destination even better than it could’ve been by itself. With smiles on our faces and a sense of accomplishment, we high five in excitement after an awesome day of riding. As usual nothing could solidify the stoke like a good brew. We headed to Sidellis for a few cold ones and to reminisce about a seemingly perfect day!