It's no secret that the weather has been stingy with the snow this year. The ski resorts had to start making their own snow early in the season, and they continue to make snow. The few storms that have blown through have been helpful and have added, in little bits, to the snow pack.
While the resorts have been able to keep a fair amount of coverage on the trails for the downhill crowd, the other winter skiers, the cross country types, and snowshoe enthusiasts, haven't been quite so lucky.
A lack of storms producing good amounts of snow means that the cross-country skiers have had to wait. After every storm that produces any amount of snow, these skiers head out to hopefully get some skiing in.
Cross-country skiers are a diverse group. If you've watched the Olympics, you've seen cross-country ski races. You may have noticed how skinny the skis. Those particular skis aren't available to the general public.
On these groomed trails, you are likely to find some tracks laid into them, in addition to the simply groomed area. Skiers on these trails will be skate skiing, which is what you see the Olympians doing. They may also ski in the tracks, using a kick and glide method.
At Hope Valley XC at Pickett's Junction in Hope Valley, Joyce Coker grooms the trails, but there are no tracks. She has a full complement of skinny ski gear to rent, or you bring your own. You'll be kicking and gliding on the trails she grooms.
Once you get away from the groomed trails of the resorts, and head out into the back country, the type of ski could change. Skinny skis still work out there. What you'll also see are cross-country skis that are wider, with a bit of a parabolic shape. They are more stable than the really skinny skis.
Hope Valley is one of the best places in the Tahoe area to cross-country ski. Heading over Luther Pass and down into Hope Valley, it becomes very clear that skiing in that broad expanse of rolling meadow on the north side of Highway 88, stretching from Pickett's Junction to the Blue Lakes road, isn't in the cards right now. The south side of the road at Blue Lakes Road is the same. No snow to ski on.
On the north side of Highway 88, the meadow is completely exposed to the sun. There simply isn't any snow there to ski on. Bleak is a good term to describe it.
Directly across from junction of Highways 88 and 89, Pickett's Junction, is where Hope Valley XC is. It is on the south side of road, and is protected by a north facing slope. You can ski there, and up the Burnside Lake Road.
In order to find enough snow for an xc ski, besides right there where the Hope Valley XC yurt is, you have to go past the Blue Lakes Road. When you get up to the top of the grade, there is snow, on both sides of the road. Amazing what a few feet of elevation will get you.
There are wide rolling meadows on the south side of the road. There is between a foot and two feet of snow to ski on. It is good skiable snow, perfect for kicking and gliding, and generally skiing about.
You'll find that the creeks that meander through those meadows are flowing freely, and you have to hunt to find a way to cross to different parts of the meadow.
If you are an xc skier, right now you'll have to head to higher terrain to find a spot to play in. It's worth it. The skiing in the higher regions is good, for now. Keep up the snow dance. We need it.
If the storms that are predicted for later in the week show up the xc ski season just could be extended a bit.