Magazine article Sunset

Winter Fun in the Middle of Nowhere

Magazine article Sunset

Winter Fun in the Middle of Nowhere

Article excerpt

Skiing, sleighing, and soaking are the order of the day off State Highway 88, south of Lake Tahoe

SORENSEN'S RESORT OWNER John Brissenden stands on the snow-covered cabin porch and looks out through a screen of naked aspens at the alpen-glow-tinted peaks across the valley. "You could say we're in the middle of nowhere," he says, as a light breeze carries the faint fragrance of woodsmoke past the porch and on up the hillside. "Of course," he adds, "most of our guests feel like we're right in the middle of everything."

"Everything," in this case, includes some of the Lake Tahoe region's finest cross-country skiing. From State Highway 88, nordic skiers can spread out over miles of trails ranging from machine-set beginners' tracks across the meadows of Hope Valley to routes along the big granite shoulders of Carson Pass. Beyond the pass, there's more nordic skiing--not to mention some adrenaline-pumping downhill runs--surrounding the condominium complex at Kirkwood.

Even nonskiers can enjoy the winter solitude while mushing a dogsled, hopping aboard a horse-drawn sleigh, or just taking toddlers sledding off the side of the road. And at day's end, you can soak weary muscles in a hot mineral pool.

That Hope Valley has retained its middle-of-nowhere feel is no accident. By the early 1980s, increasing numbers of South Lake Tahoe residents and visitors were driving over Luther Pass to escape the south shore's weekend congestion. Alarmed over proposals for residential subdivisions, ski area development, and a trans-Sierra power line, Brissenden and his wife, Patty, joined with other concerned Alpine County residents to form Friends of Hope Valley in 1985.

"With a permanent population of barely 1,200, all of Alpine County has fewer people living in it than are skiing at Kirkwood on a good weekend," says Patty Brissenden. "We didn't want this area to become another Tahoe." The group worked with the San Francisco-based Trust for Public Land, the U.S. Forest Service, and the California Department of Fish and Game to acquire critical private ranch lands. By last year, more than 25,000 acres had been purchased; the last 3,000 acres of private holdings should be transferred into public ownership this winter.


Before shouldering a day pack and skiing off into the winter wilderness, consider what the journey must have been like for Henry W. Bigler and party in May 1848 as they made their way back from the California diggings to Salt Lake City. First they were stalled by deep snows clogging the Sierra passes, then Indians killed three men at a place just west of Kirkwood that's still called Tragedy Springs. It was late July before they finally crossed Carson Pass and "camped at the head of what we called Hope Valley, as we began to have hope."

Today this expanse of the valley just west of the junction of State 88 and State 89 offers hope for beginning nordic skiers. This is where Hope Valley Cross Country (916/694-2266; based at Sorensen's Resort on State 88, a mile east of the junction) offers lessons and where the uninitiated can take off on the 4 miles of set track called Sled Dog Trail to practice their kick and glide without the combined distractions of hills and gravity. Once they have the basics under control, they can move on to the 6-mile Sawmill Loop, an easy intermediate trail with views up the valley to the Carson Range. Skiers looking for a longer run unblemished by beginners' sitzmarks can make the 14-mile round trip to Burnside Lake. Hope Valley Cross Country rents skis, boots, and poles for $12 per day. There is no charge to use the 20 miles of groomed and 60 miles of marked trails, but trail maps cost $3.

This area also happens to be where the annual Alpine County Canine Connection Sled Dog Race will be held on February 12 and 13. If you want to avoid the crowds over race weekend but would like to try your hand at mushing a team, Husky Express Dog Sled Tours (702/782-3047) will take the family on a 1-hour ride for $50 adults, $20 children. …

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