Lake Tahoe during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Date: September 2020 and February 2021

Besides heading to Wyoming and Montana to see Yellowstone and Grand Tetons we also made a COVID-19 pandemic trip to Lake Tahoe. We actually headed there twice. The first trip was in September 2020, during the wildfire season. We then returned in February for cross-country skiing when everything was covered in snow.

September 2020

For the first trip we used my Hyatt and Chase Ultimate Reward points for a free stay at the Resort at Squaw Creek. My favorite part of this visit was the hotel's expansive pool. While the pandemic affected everyone differently, in my case the major impact was the closure of local pools. I have been working from home for over 10 years, so the shift to home-based work changed absolutely nothing about my day-to-day job. However, pools, even the outdoor ones, here in Los Angeles and Ventura county shuttered for many months. I am not a great swimmer, but enjoy the occasional laps as a way to cross-train. This trip ended up being my first time being able to swim in around 6 months.

At the lake

This was also when the Bay Area was suffering from a terrible air quality due to raging North Complex and Bay Creek fires. The first day we had clear blue skies but the wind shifted soon enough and as you can see below, we could barely see across the valley on the second day.

Huge change in air quality in just one day as a new wind pattern brought in smoke from the Bay Area wildfires.
Working 'from home' at the resort
The next day I went for a run. Not sure if breathing in all the smoke was a good idea! I made a loop across the hill to the nearby Olympic valley.

In the evening we started driving down towards the lake to look for dinner, but spotted a sign for the River Ranch Lodge restaurant right off US-89. This place is truly amazing and I recommend everyone in the area to stop by. As was now customary, dining was moved outdoors, but this is clearly the superious seating option. The deck sits above a creek, with pines trees overhead. The food was absolutely amazing.

Excellent dinner at River Ranch Lodge

Our hotel had bicycles for rent. We used them to ride down to the lake along a bike path following US-89.

Bike riding along US-89

On this trip, we took my car and drove up to Tahoe from our home in Southern California. We went up US-395, and followed the eastern and northern shore of the lake to get to the hotel. On the way back we followed the western shore down to Tahoe City and stopped by places to take pictures.

Views from a scenic drive along the lake
Another view of the lake

February 2021

For the second trip, we ended up flying. United has a direct flight to Reno from Burbank, which is so much nicer than dealing with the long car trip, especially in winter when the roads can be snowed in. This was also one of the prettiest flights I have ever taken. It essentially follows US-395 as it parallels the snow covered Sierra Nevadas. In Reno, we got a rental car and drove to the Donner Lake Village hotel which sits right by the Donner Lake. This small lake is about 20 miles north west of Tahoe, just passing Truckee.

Spectacular scenery from the United Burbank to Reno flight
Donner Lake from the hotel. Just up the street is a small pub where we grabbed a beer to go.
The next morning we went for a 10 mile run around the lake. This was my first time trying out a GoPro. Love it!
For some reason, I don't mind shorts even in freezing temperatures as long as my top is covered.
Video from our run

The main reason for the trip was to go skiing at the Royal Gorge Cross-Country Ski Resort. It is advertised as one of the largest cross-country ski parks in the USA and I believe it. The trail system is massive. The route markings are a bit deceptive though. The resort consists of two major areas. The first covers the trails around the Summit Station, where you get your skis and trail passes. The second are trails around Lake Van Norden, which also connects to the Sugar Bowl downhill ski area. Unlike during our powder-filled trip to West Virginia, the snow here was extremely icy. The day time air temperatures were above freezing, so the snow would continuously melt and re-freeze. Our first skiing attempt was by the Summit Station. Even the green routes seemed like a death trap. Sandra started on skis but it got too slippery soon, so she opted out for snowshoes, while I made one loop around. The greens here should really be treated as blues everywhere else, especially when it is icy, as some of them have fairly steep hills. The next day we skied around the Van Norden lake. This was much more pleasant and beginner friendly. People bring their dogs which seem to absolutely love being able to run around the snow. We made it all the way to Sugar Bowl where we had lunch.

Skiing and snowshoeing around Summit Station
Skiing at the more begginer-friendly Van Norden lake
We had lunch at Sugar Bowl resort before heading back
Back at the hotel

While out here, we found out that a Alina, a friend we know from our past Washington D.C. running club, was in Truckee. She had relocated to the Bay Area, but moved to Truckee during the earlier fire season and subsequently decided, among with many others, to stay put. Tahoe is sort of like an extension of the Silicon Valley. Every coffee shop is filled with people working on their laptops, taking meetings, which has led to an astronomical rise in property values. We got invited to their house for dinner. We stopped by a beer store to bring some drinks, and I just couldn't pass up one called "Particle Physics".

A glass-blowing studio in Truckee, and a very appropriate beer

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