On July 31, 2020, I made the questionable decision to wake up at dawn and head south of Lake Tahoe to an area I know holds snow late into the summer. This area is used by many of the Turns All Year (TAY) tribe of skiers and riders who try to link-up turns during each of the 12 months of the calendar year. Since I decided to stick to “normal” summer activities the weekend before, I only had one day to get some July skiing in, and despite the lack of snow and the summer heat, the experience made it all worth it.
“I think I saw you on the internet.” Said one hiker I saw on the trail heading toward a scene that looked more like “Sound of Beauty” than ski movie. I certainly do not look like Cody Townsend and my Instagram does not have thousands of followers but I guess doing something this foolish only belongs on the internet.
I could not find anyone to drive with me that hot July morning but it was not the less-than 2-hour drive or the early wakeup that detracted anyone from joining me. You can clearly see that this trip involved more hiking and carrying skis than glorious hero turns. Nonetheless, I felt like a hero once I was able to switch from light approach shoes to my Scarpas.
I kept it light (but not-too-light) that morning. My pack contained the following: one Gatorade (I don’t need much water when I tour and ended up refilling at a little spring on the mountain near my high-point), a packable towel, swimsuit, an extra layer I did not need, some sunscreen and my skis and poles. I also brought an extra pair of socks that I did not end up using. But as Lieutenant Dan said, “Protect your feet!”
“You hiked all the way out here with skis for that!?!,” said a trio of guys who looked to be backpacking for the night. “Well so did you…and I get to ski… Aren’t these wildflowers amazing!?!?” I responded to silence and kept walking. Now you might say something about that not being enough snow to ski and you might be right. But this game does not really have rules and when it does, I don’t want to be part of the official game. The one rule I have for TAY is: “have fun and get home to talk about it”. If I can link up turns after carrying skis for two hours in July heat, I call that summer skiing. I’ve skied down a road near Donner Pass in October that had a little more snow than a snow cone so this looked appetizing enough for me from the highway to strap my skis to my back and start hiking.
On some summer days, I just hike in my backcountry touring boots, which are now light and comfortable enough to handle a few miles without leaving me in too much pain. However, today was not that day. I was going for speed but also comfort. I needed to keep morale high since I didn’t have my wife, my husky, or any buddies who were foolish enough to skip lake day to ski less than 10 turns in July.
Even if the skiing was going to be quick and dirty, the weather, views, and wildflowers were in full effect so I felt much better about my decision to ski that day. I think only once have I seen wildflowers that rivaled the array of color, variety, and plentiful flowers that day– and that was on Mt. Rainier when I hiked to the snowline with my family one August as a teen.
Once above the lake that sits below this go-to treasure of summer skiing, I hit snow that was still bulletproof at the bottom. “Nope that is ice,” I said to myself after doing a quick check with my pole. I was able to get stomp a small bootpack into the snow which I’ll admit was just a big enough patch for me to make turns on. But honestly, it seemed like I would get more turns than I had expected when I saw the few pathetic patches of snow from the road and made the decision to hike with skis that morning. Once I had left the car I thought I would only get rewarded with 2-3 turns.
Approaching the “crux”-if you would even call it that-of the ascent, I was wary of losing all the altitude I worked for and had to use the Vibram sole of my touring boots to navigate the loose shale and scree that was under these few remaining patches of “skiable snow”. At this point, I drank the rest of my blue Gatorade. I was then able to refill the bottle with spring water made from the very snow I was going to ski. Then I would hike back down to the lake before taking a swim to celebrate.
Finally, at the top of what I could ski, I was able to view Red Lake Peak and Lake Tahoe as well as Kirkwood and other locations of the area most of you probably already know about if you ski near Tahoe in the summer months. Once at the top, I was reminded about the always treacherous mission of getting my boots into my tech bindings. I stood on loose scree and rotting snow and looked down toward the patch of snow I was going to ski. It was no longer than two sprinter vans stacked on top of each other.
I was able to link about 8-10 turns together but I was not really counting. Getting out for missions on the Cascade volcanoes or high-altitude passes in July, August and September is never really about the quality of turns because this snow was more “summer grilled corn” than hot pow. The only question remains, where will I be skiing in August 2020?