Monday, March 31, 2014

[TRAVEL] Lake Tahoe for Non-Skiers

Y'all have heard about the drought conditions that California is currently suffering through, right? During our winter months I can only recall four times that it rained for the entirety of the season. Many of the weekends, if you hadn't looked closely at the calendar, you would have thought fell smack dab in the middle of June. Using the unseasonably warm and dry weather as our guide, we booked an overnight camping trip to Yosemite for the end of March. I kept my eye on the weather forecast all last week, especially as the news predicted large spring storms coming our way. Sure enough, it looked like Yosemite Valley was destined for an early spring storm that would dump buckets of water. In a nutshell, not exactly great camping conditions.

Because I had it in my head that we were going away for the weekend, and I had been looking forward to the getaway, I convinced Alan that we should head up to Lake Tahoe instead. We haven't stayed on in South Lake for many years, typically preferring the North Shore, Squaw Valley, and Incline Village. In looking at last minute deals, I found one for the Hyatt but when I went to pay, between taxes and resort fees, the total price was almost $100 more than I had been quoted. Instead, I booked the Marriott Timber Lodge, next to the Heavenly Ski Resort gondola in South Lake and hoped for the best. The TripAdvisor reviews were universally good, so that wasn't going to be a problem. The hard part is the fact that neither of us are skiers, and with a location literally at the gondola at the base of the mountain I wasn't sure how we would spend our time. I need not have worried.

Before leaving, I checked the weather report and it was inconclusive. Depending on what site you reviewed, it was either going to rain, or it was going to be the snowstorm of the century. One site even called for 19 inches! Knowing that we could likely hit a lot of traffic due to the weather, we woke up bright and early (well, not exactly bright since it was still dark outside), and drove the three hours up to South Lake, hitting no traffic whatsoever. As we made our way up the mountain, we didn't encounter any snow until we reached the area around Strawberry. Looking toward the top of the mountain you could see that there had been a recent sprinkling of snow on the tallest of the treetops. At around Echo Summit, we encountered flurries. Hooray!

Reaching the resort around 10:30 a.m., we were thrilled when the great receptionist was able to check us into a room early. And best of all, we were upgraded from a basic room to a one bedroom suite overlooking the pool! Getting a room at all for early check in pretty much made the day. We were able to get to our room and take a nap since we'd been up since before sunrise. An hour later we threw on a ton of cold weather gear (we used this opportunity to test out some of the stuff we'd bought for our upcoming trip to Alaska), and made our way down to the gondola to ride it up to the tubing park. As we walked out of the hotel we noticed, however, that the gondola wasn't moving. As we got to the ticket counter, a concierge told us that the gondola was closed due to extreme weather and that there were two shuttles taking skiers up the mountain but that the tubing park was closed. (We later overheard a woman telling her boyfriend that it was so hard to ski up on the mountain because the winds were blowing snow so hard and fast that she couldn't see two feet in front of her.)

Undeterred, we picked up our car from the valet and drove back to Echo Summit to try our luck at Adventure Mountain, a cute little hill that had a few sledding and tubing options. When we got there, it started snowing pretty good, and I was like a kid in a candy store. Unfortunately, at 7280 feet above see level, my giddiness could also be attributed to a decided lack of oxygen. I have some trouble at altitude, including an inability to get enough oxygen into my lungs, and a habit of falling over dizzy. When you had hiking up a hillside to the mix, it wasn't the best of conditions for me. Still, it was mighty fun for an hour or so.

On our way out of Adventure Mountain, Alan wanted to test the Subaru's driving capability by going back to Echo Lake. As a kid his family spent time here during the summer and it holds a special place in his heart. When we told his dad that we were buying a Subaru, he mentioned that everyone that lived on Echo Lake owned Subarus for the winter months as they were the only cars that could legitimately handle the weather. To quote Barney Stinson, "Challenge Accepted!" The road had been plowed up to the snow park, but from that point on, it was mainly still snowed over with the exception of tire tracks. My guess is there was maybe 3-4 inches of snow on the road back to the lodge, before it was completely closed to all traffic down to the Lake. The car handled perfectly. In fact, it was a breeze. Because it was snowing and there was a lot of cloud cover we couldn't really see the lake, but the scenery was still pretty lovely. Oh, I almost forgot ... before going down the road to the Lodge, we turned off on another road that hadn't been plowed. It looked like almost a foot of snow was there. We drove down to test the car, and again, it performed admirably. We decided to turn around, only to see a new BMW X5 coming down the same narrow lane. Want to guess who got caught in the snow and was just spinning their tires? It wasn't us. Subaru 1, BMW 0. (Yes, I'm super competitive, even in this.)

We drove back in the snow and when we got to Tahoe there was a mandatory stop for all vehicles to put on chains (4WD vehicles are exempt from this rule). I had a feeling this meant that the storm was going to be gearing up for some craziness. Back down at the hotel (South Lake is about 1000 feet below Echo Summit) we hung out at the hot tub for awhile before going back to the room for a nap. Thank goodness we hit the hot tub up when we did because about 30 minutes after we got out, the place was packed!

The hot tubs at the Marriott are pretty darn nice! You can't see, but to the left is a pretty big pool as well. A while later we made our way out to The Brewery at Lake Tahoe. Now, if you haven't figured it out by now, we like beer. No, scratch that. We love beer. If there is a brew pub on our travels, we will find it. Stepping out of our building toward the valet, the snow was COMING DOWN. I'm talking giant, fat flakes of snow. And it was accumulating fast! It was like a winter wonderland out there.

Since there were a number of families in the restaurant portion of The Brewery, we sat in the bar. It made for some interesting people watching. It also made for some good beer drinking and food eating. I stuffed myself on fish & chips to the point where I thought I'd have to be rolled out of there. Unfortunately, we were seated at a table near the door, and a bunch of families with kids took this to be the waiting area so our meal was disturbed to say the least (at one point there was a lady so close to me that she was actually touching me - she didn't seem to mind, but I did). Rather than getting more beer, we ordered a growler and went back to the room. And that's when the food coma hit me. I couldn't keep my eyes open. I ended up taking ANOTHER nap. When I woke up, we cuddled up in bed and watched a few hours of stand up comedy on Comedy Central. Hannibal Buress has a pretty hilarious stand up routine on New Orleans that was especially funny to us having just visited, and having just eaten at the place that is a center point to the routine.

The next morning we got up before dawn again and hung around the room a bit. We didn't really have anything to do so we decided to hop in the car and drive home. Wow, SO MUCH SNOW. It was beautiful. On the way out of Tahoe we got to pass straight through the chain check because of our Subaru. Hooray! I'm already loving this car so much. At Echo Summit, we decided to test the car again since a new foot of snow had fallen. We drove straight back to the Lodge and while it was a noticeably different drive than the day before, the Subaru still went right through it, totally un-phased.  We almost got to the Lodge when there was a Honda Accord spinning its tires, and a bunch of people trying to get it out of the way. We wanted to go around it and drive on to the Lodge, but the guy that was there - not sure if he was affiliated with the Lodge, but he spoke authoritatively - was kind of rude to us and basically told us to go away. Not having anywhere to turn around (because the Honda was blocking our path to do so), Alan had to drive backwards for about 1/2 mile in over a foot of fresh snow. Again, not a problem. You know how you see something on the internet and you think it can't possibly be like that in real life? Well, we had watched plenty of videos of Subarus in the snow but until you see how this car performs for yourself, you can't possibly understand how well this vehicle is made for inclimate weather. 

All in all, it was a great 30 hours away from home. It wasn't a huge trip by any stretch of the imagination, but I really appreciated being able to take what amounted to a staycation on pretty short notice. I want to see if we can manage to fit in even more trips like this throughout the rest of the year. I definitely want to get to Yosemite at some point - I'm thinking June.