Hometown Mountain Shoutout: Kirkwood, CA – Admiration of the Sierra Crest

Brady James Kraabel | | Trip ReportTrip Report
Kirkwood Valley
Timber Peak, Kirkwood from CA Hwy 88. | Credit: Brady James Kraabel

I will never forget my first day at Kirkwood. There was a storm blowing in the night before continuing into the morning bringing feet of fresh snow. I pulled up to chain control in Hope Valley just 20 road miles south of Lake Tahoe. I stopped, rolled my window down, and asked how the road conditions were. The attendant stated that the road was still open but many weren’t willing to get far due to low visibility. And it wasn’t 20 minutes later when I understood what he meant – with the wind blowing snow, I could barely see in front of my derelict 4Runner, let alone the edge of the cliff across the lane at the top of Carson Pass. 

Storm Day
Driving into a snowstorm on Hwy 88. | Credit: Brady James Kraabel

Upon entering the valley, the storm cleared in perfect time, revealing the beauty of Kirkwood’s steep rocky upper terrain with bountiful chutes spanning Thimble Peak to Glove Rock and Two Sentinels. Wavy topography with treed-filled mid-mountain terrain ended in a gentle slope at the base. The face of the mountain looks as if it were placed on a graph as an exponential curve, with exponential returns, Kirkwood delivered. Explosives simultaneously rattle your senses and trigger avalanches, successfully clearing danger for skiers with nearly every run off the top being naturally cleared from centuries of avalanche activity.

Little did I know this mountain would unexpectedly hold my soul captive for the years to follow. Waiting each year to ski and board the yearly average 30 feet of snow across a multitude of never-ending intriguing terrain. The seclusion Kirkwood provides from civilization requires an individual to contain multitudes of determination to travel to the resort and seize the opportunity to improve oneself mentally and physically in an open country. 

snowy creek
Kirkwood Creek in the winter | Credit: Brady James Kraabel

The ecology providing life to biology is breathtaking when observing the naturalistic beauty Kirkwood boasts. A Surreal feeling is provided when you take a moment to stop in any given place as there are trees full of life with lichen glowing bright green as birds sing. In the background, granite spires rise from the Sierra crest. Hiding under the snow are plants that come in spring, blooming into gorgeous flowers and greenery providing shelter for small to mid-sized wildlife in the meadow as larger animals roam the alpine landscape.

Rarely are you truly alone at Kirkwood – there’s something in the air that becomes apparent once you interact with others that seek out Kirkwood. The mountain may hold you physically but it’s the community of spirited men, women, and children that hold your being with care until inevitably, you long for more. 

Lady Shredders
Kirkwood enthusiast dropping Thunder Saddle | Credit: Brady James Kraabel

Gullies, chutes, and rocks craft a creative mind to pick new lines, jumps, and drops. Snow so deep that insane serotonin levels are triggered simultaneously with an uncomfortable fear of falling and not being found in 5 ft of powder. One must be cautious in advanced terrain as treed ridgelines open to fresh snow, often followed by cliffs few dare to navigate. It’s a big kid’s playground with space to cater to the little guys and everyone in between. Mellow off-piste terrain can be found from the halfway point down on any aspect giving a relaxed exploration to any who tire out of the steeps. Large features infinitely scale down to anyone’s skill level at the base of Kirkwood, providing the whole family with a choose-your-own-adventure experience.

Steep and Deep
On Kirkwood’s Chair 6 looking towards Chair 10 | Credit: Brady James Kraabel

We have many unnamed legends to thank next to Dick Reuter, Kirkwood cofounder in 1972, and Zachary Kirkwood, builder of the Kirkwood inn 1864, for the quiet little resort, a mountain of endless adventure. 50 years after opening to snow sports enthusiasts, Kirkwood continues to carry its values of integrity and remote snow sports within its valley and community.

Thank you Kirkwood family.

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One thought on “Hometown Mountain Shoutout: Kirkwood, CA – Admiration of the Sierra Crest

  1. The article has a bit too much flowery prose for a Kirkwood review. Kirkwood is bad ass. Plenty of lift-serviced terrain that will challenge most anyone and some easy-to-walk-to terrain that will thrill the isolationist in anyone. But, if you want to work, the side terrain is incredible.

    And Kirkwood has a decent bar. Not much else needed to make this a great place to ski.

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