Little Black Book

Roll a Fatty, Shoe Some Snow: No Skis Necessary in Tahoe This Winter

by Kerri Allen
Snowshoeing Snowshoeing in North Lake Tahoe. Photo by David Bunker.

Yay! You're going to Lake Tahoe! Boo! You don't ski. No need to sit and sulk indoors. There's plenty to do on and off the slopes.

LAKE TAHOE – Carving down a clear mountain trail in Lake Tahoe is bliss — cool wind in your face, sparkling snow in every direction — a true moment of peace. But those who don't ski or snowboard are often relegated to the less-than-singular experience of sipping cocoa in a lodge. It doesn't have to be that way. The natural playground that is Lake Tahoe offers heaps of off-mountain fun in the form of snowshoeing and stargazing and fat-bike riding. So leave the skis and snowboard (and marshmallows) back at the ranch, and head outside. There will be time for marshmallows later. You have a busy day ahead.


Start out slowly with snowshoeing, a winter activity almost literally as old as the hills. The first showshoes of Tahoe's native Washoe tribe were made from manzanita branches and deer-hide laces. Today, you'll find more of the plastic and neoprene variety, but their utility for hiking into the beautiful Nevada and California backcountry is timeless.

Northstar California in Truckee, California, offers snowshoe lessons and guided trail tours right from the mountain. For an easier, self-guided tour, The Flume Trail in North Lake Tahoe is a quick walk outside lovely lakeside Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe in Incline Village, Nevada.

Midnight moments. Photo by Ryan Berendsen.

Stargazing HQ: Northstar California Nordic Center. Photo by Ryan Berendsen.


To add a little sparkle to the snowshoe experience, take a Tahoe Star Tour with Nevada cosmologist Tony Berendsen, who has been leading nighttime snowshoe walks for fifteen years. He has a true a passion for the cosmos and a mission to "get people interested in looking up." And you should: The clear, bright starscape in Tahoe is awe-inspiring.


Fat biking offers a bit more adrenaline, along with bragging rights. The hottest trend of the season emerged from avid mountain bikers getting frustrated that they couldn't easily navigate snowy trails. Fat bikes (who can cost $2,000 or more) have extra-wide tires that grip snow better than standard mountain bike tires. Alder Creek Adventure Center at the Tahoe Donner Cross-Country Ski Area in Truckee, California, opened three miles of trails for fat bikes this winter.

The Adventure Center's fat bike trail map looks exactly like one for a ski mountain. Black, blues, and greens indicate difficulty level, making it easy to choose your own adventure. If you can fat bike your way down a black diamond, it's time to take your snowy exploits to the next level.

A fat-ass bike. Photo courtesy of Northstar California.

The historic Clair Tappaan Lodge in Norden, California. Photo by Kerri Allen.


The Tahoe backcountry is dotted with historic huts owned by the Sierra Club that serious adventurers can hike, snowshoe, or cross-country ski to access. Clair Tappaan Lodge in Norden, California, operates four such huts. It's about a day's journey from the lodge to a hut, each of which can accommodate fifteen people and includes a sleeping loft, wood stove, sledgehammer, wedge, and outhouse. Huts are supplied with cut firewood, but you'll need to split them yourself. Which only adds to the adventure.


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