A mountain bike mecca in summer, Tahoe’s east shore is just as spectacular in winter but much less crowded
By Tim Hauserman
Many adventurers in the summer and fall head to Spooner Summit on the east side of Lake Tahoe for epic riding or hiking on the Flume Trail. Some are not aware that this area is equally fine during the winter, when it becomes Spooner Lake Cross Country Ski Area, Nevada’s only groomed cross-country ski resort.
Since 1985, Max Jones and his wife Patti McMullan, have operated Spooner Lake Cross Country. For Max and Patti, running a Nordic center has meant a ton of work and a lot of finger crossing: Will the weekend and holiday crowds somehow pay the bill of keeping 80 kms of trail groomed during the week? Will it snow enough?
It certainly doesn’t help that average annual snowfall on the east shore of Lake Tahoe is about half as much as the west shore, but it works because Max and Patti are expert groomers and are dedicated to providing top-notch XC skiing, and the Spooner Lake area is one of the most beautiful places in the world to put some glide under your feet.
Spend a few hours huffing and puffing your way around Spooner and you will really appreciate the glorious terrain including views of Spooner Lake, Snow Valley Peak, Marlette Lake and, of course, Lake Tahoe.
While these trails may be packed with mountain bikers in the summer, in the winter if you start out early you may have the place to yourself. “We think Spooner has the best wilderness feel of any of the ski areas at Tahoe,” Max says.
While there are a few easy trails close to the lodge, when you go to Spooner make a day of it and challenge yourself to the best that Spooner has to offer.
Start out on the North Canyon Trail, which will be familiar to mountain bikers as the road providing access to the Flume Trail. After the first stiff climb you intersect the Lower Aspen Trail, climb to Upper Aspen and meander through vast aspen groves before reaching the Waterfall, a short steep section that is appropriately named. Soon enough you meet up once again with the North Canyon Trail. If you are tired already, brace yourself Bridget, because from here it gets pretty darn steep as you climb up to the Marlette Saddle.
Once you reach the saddle you may embrace the concept of turning around and heading back to the lodge — but not so fast buckaroo, now is when it really gets good. The Saint’s Rest Trail beckons. A bit more climbing is rewarded when you cross over to the lake side of the ridge, and Flume Trail-like views and fun sweeping ups and downs await you.
Eventually you end up below the Marlette Lake Dam, where a short climb brings you to the edge of the lake and a few miles of level skating (perhaps the only level skiing you are blessed with all day). After enjoying the frozen expanse of Marlette Lake you climb up to the Marlette Saddle, where your big climbs of the day are over and five wonderful miles of downhill lie ahead.
Start the joy with the Super G trail, which gives you a series of Super G-type turns from the top of Snow Valley. If the trail was a little firm on your way up, now it should be softened up to Goldilocks’ conditions, giving you some of the best downhill skate skiing you can find anywhere.
At the bottom of Snow Valley, Super G meets North Canyon Trail and it’s time for a long glide the rest of the way home. If you haven’t had enough (and most of you will), then you can check out some of the lovely trails that lie in the meadow or circle Spooner Lake.
Stay in a Cozy Cabin:
The Spooner Lake folks have created two hand-hewn rustic log cabins available for daily rental just off the trail system. Constructed in 1997 and 1998, the cabins are equipped with beds, water, compost toilets and a true feeling of remoteness — yet you can ski to them easily.
Go for the ski described above, then finish your day at your own cabin right on the trail, and get up the next morning and go for another ski on the quiet Spooner trails. Does it get any better? This should be enough to rejuvenate the most harried city dweller. It is also your contribution to keeping afloat a business that depends on the cabins year round to pay for great grooming in the winter.
The Wild Cat Cabin is located about 3.5 kms from the lodge and has a view of Emerald Bay. The Spooner Cabin is just one km from the trailhead and is situated close to the shores of Spooner Lake. Ski season rates start at $160 per night, which includes the cabin plus trail pass, equipment rental and a lesson if desired.
Last winter Spooner introduced the five-mile long Tahoe View snowshoe trail, which provides snowshoe only access to an awesome lake view as well as the Wild Cat and Spooner Cabins.
Spooner Lake Cross-Country is on Nevada Highway 28, just a half mile north of the junction with Highway 50 on Spooner Summit. From Incline Village, drive 11 miles on Highway 28 to the parking lot on your left. From Carson City take the 10-mile drive to the junction of Highway 50 and Highway 28. For more information, or for cabin reservations, go to www.spoonerlake.com, 775-749-5349. 1-888-858-8844.
Tim Hauserman wrote “Cross-Country Skiing in the Sierra Nevada.” He teaches at Tahoe Cross-Country Ski Area in Tahoe City.