Saturday, December 31, 2011

When There's no Snow in a Ski Town

It’s a glum aura hangs around this mountain town. December has come and gone (okay, almost) with nary a bit of the white stuff. We did not have a white Christmas. Already minimal operations at ski resorts are shrinking even further, kindling a firestorm of layoffs. No one is stoked.

Except for the trail runners.

In stark contrast to last year’s winter where I’d already had two months of backcountry powder glory on my skis by this point, we’re still running high country trails. It does a bit to make up for the fact that many trails didn’t open up until August last summer.

Is this what it’s like to live somewhere where it doesn’t snow? I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in for December.

And what do the ski bums do (besides shed a tear in their whiskey over their state of unemployment) when there’s no snow? Well, mountain biking is the obvious choice, and there’s plenty of that going on. Ice climbing conditions are better than they’ve been in a decade, but that only appeals to a select group of nut cases. I gave that up when I left Minnesota! You know what’s really all the rage in the Sierra right now?

Ice skating.

Frozen Echo Lake

Usually by the time it’s cold enough for anything to freeze, it’s all buried under 20 feet of snow. But people have been making the best of an unusual winter, and the skating is off the hook. I mean, have you seen any of those pictures of people skating on Tenaya Lake in Yosemite? How can you not want to skate across that glassy expanse surrounded by massive granite domes? I am not much of a skater, but to glide across the ice in an empty, beautiful, wilderness is pretty special.

There are four or five good lakes to skate in Truckee right now, but those Yosemite pictures I saw online really captured me. I wanted to skate the backcountry.

And who could I get to join me on a trail running/ice skating Desolation Wilderness adventure in late December? I knew before I asked that Jamie would come along for the ride – that girl is addicted to those trails.

She and Anthony joined me on Friday for a 12 mile run out to Lake Aloha, although I was the only goofball with ice skates strapped to my hydration pack.

Dear GoLite pack, you have passed the test. You're going to Hardrock, baby!

We all agreed that there was less snow than there had been out on that trail in July, and the amount of running we were able to do was wonderful.

There was still a bit of ice on the trail in places though.

We did hit some snow within about a mile of Aloha, but it was still incredibly reasonable running.

The skating on Aloha wasn’t quite the Tenaya Lake glory that I had envisioned. (There is WAY less water up there this time of year.) Although the actual skating in Truckee is better, the novelty of being out there sliding around on the ice was totally worth bringing the skates. So much fun!

Demonstrating exceptional skating technique.

This entire winter break has been somewhat of a novelty for me. My mileage has been fueled a bit by some anxiety over this 100 mile race I’ll be doing in July, but mostly it’s just been a matter of opportunity. When I think about the places I’ve run in the last four days, I can’t help but smile. Four completely different runs, in different weather and conditions. I’m blown away by the running available right now, and I’m taking advantage of every single bit.

Tuesday: Donner Lake, 10 miles on road, starry skies, 11 degrees F

Wednesday: Peavine, 14 miles on dirt, 4,000' vert, partly cloudy, 60 degrees F

Thursday: Desolation Wilderness, 12 miles on technical trail and snow, partly cloudy, 37 degrees F

Friday: Michigan Bluff to the swinging bridge and back, 21 miles on trail, light rain, 46 degrees F


  1. Gosh, I think you might have less snow than the Wasatch. The pic of the wide open trail in the Desolation Wilderness, just wow at the lack of white.

    Happy New Year! I hope your man is getting by with the weird winter right now.

  2. Oooo, I love ice skating. We don't even have that this year, it's so weirdly warm/ Ice skating on a huge lake with mountains rising all around: What could be better than that?! Happy New Year, Gretchen!!

  3. WOWWEE-WOW!! I had know idea that there was a drought for our mountain friends to the South. I can understand the ridiculousness of that situation (and the frustration of the ski bums!) but I would be quietly rejoicing and doing the same. Maybe the Planet-Are-Aligning because the amount of snow you had in the Sierra's last year screwed up the daily rotation of our fine planet!! :) Here, it's been a good Christmas at the ski hills and people are happy. On a sidenote - did you happen to sign up for Pocatello? Cuz I think a certain Ms. Meghan and I are heading there for a rendez-vous with a quick stop to pick up Danni along the way.

  4. Meghan - Happy New Year! Andrew is definitely part of the unstoked populace right now. But it has to snow eventually. (Doesn't it??)

    Pam - The skating is definitely a fun change of pace. I hope you at least have good trails open still!

    Leslie - Pocatello!Pocatello! YES!! I was super excited to see your name on the entrants list this morning, and now doubly so to hear about Meghan and Danni! Yippeee! Jamie and I are coming out together, so it will be a cool chicks weekend for sure! Let's be in touch about logistics so we can be sure to hang out.

  5. Lugging skates for a backcountry skate means you win the prize for coolest thing I saw this week. Love that. Impressive week of runs, too. Good to see you're using the odd winter to bank some vert. Happy New Year!

  6. What lakes have you been skating on around Truckee?

  7. Stac - Thanks! Just counted it up and I've done 82 miles in the past week. Yikes! :) Happy New Year!

    Anon - Prosser, Coldstream Ponds, and Serene Lake up on the summit. With the past week of warmth though, I'm not sure if any of those are still good. I was up at Marlette Lake yesterday and it looked like it had probably been great a week ago (thick ice!) but was beginning to crack and move, so I wouldn't skate it now.

  8. Thanks for the quick response on skating! When you went to Aloha, why did you choose from Echo trailhead and not Fallen Leaf?

  9. Andrew - Mmm ... just more familiar with the Echo trailhead I guess! :) No other reason.

  10. Daaang Gretchen, as always you post the most beautiful pics! Hope 2012 is another great running year for ya! :)