Taking a breather in Mammoth Lakes

me minarets

The tragic Rim Fire outside of Yosemite hit close to home last week, when the fire’s smoke traveled up to the Tahoe basin – and decided to stay awhile.  We’ve not seen smoke this bad since the Angora Fire, and it affected our morale as much as our ability to breathe and sleep.  With no respite forecast for the weekend, we decided to head south to Mammoth Lakes, where we had heard air quality was much better, thanks to the wind direction.

dog stick convict lake

Since we had the dog with us, our first stop was for her.  Convict Lake is just south of Mammoth Lakes, and while it’s a popular fishing spot, the 2.5 mile trail that circumvents the lake is the perfect distance for a nearly 13 year old dog.  We love the views of Mt. Morrison and Mini-Morrison, and the clear blue skies were only additional incentive.

Nils Mammoth

The real reason for traveling to Mammoth was to mountain bike.  It’s been a few years since I had been to Mammoth’s mountain bike park, and while I had upgraded my bike, Mammoth had done a lot of work to the trail system, adding trails and working on existing ones.  The net result was a whole lotta fun.  Think plenty of banked turns, bridges, more than a few pavers, and a ton of views.

With great meals at Toomey’s and Campo Mammoth, along with food, wine, live music and fascinating people watching at the Mammoth Rocks event Saturday, it really felt like a mini vacation.

For both me and my lungs.

If you go:

Mammoth Mountain Bike Park: Open 7 days a week through September 15, then weekends through September 29.

Convict Lake: In addition to hiking, there’s also fishing, boating and a terrific restaurant.  Go here in the autumn to see the technicolor brilliance of the aspens along the lake.

Toomey’s: Matt Toomey, former head chef at the Tioga Toomey’s at the Whoa Nellie Deli, has returned to Mammoth.  His new restaurant, located near the Village in the old Ski Surgeon building, boasts many of his classics (think lobster taquitos) and some new favorites, like the ½ pound burger served with caramelized onions and blue cheese.

Campo Mammoth:  This Mammoth outpost of the popular Reno rustic Italian restaurant offers wood-fired pizzas, great cocktails (try the Campo Manhattan), and an awesome kale salad.

Old New York Deli & Bakery:  The best (read: authentic) bagels you can find in the Sierra.  Seriously.  Located in the Village, it’s got great breakfasts and happens to be conveniently located on the way to the ski resort.

The bunny whisperer

soleil stick small

When we moved into our place 2+ years ago, we inherited a brown lawn.  Attempts were made to reseed it and resuscitate it, but it became apparent that it needed replacing.  I joked about keeping it indefinitely and hosting a Dead Sod Bocce Tournament, but that never came to fruition, and our backyard just ended up looking janky.

We finally got around to replacing the lawn a few weeks ago, and it’s a much needed improvement.  That said, we’ve discovered a problem, albeit not one that was expected.  Our main concerns were that our white dog would end up green after discovering the joys of rolling in it, or that she would create lots of dead spots where she peed on it.

Neither of those two things has become an issue.  Our problem?  Bunnies.

We’ve had rabbits passing through our yard since we moved in.  Mostly small, and mostly harmless, they never stayed long.  This was not thanks to our dog’s eagle eyes or interest in keeping the homestead safe.  It was because we had nothing for them to eat.

The arrival of a lush green lawn has made our backyard ground zero for the neighborhood’s rabbit population.  The eating of the grass isn’t so bad – it’s what they leave behind.   There are no real predators either, since our dog is useless at noticing them (even two feet away).  And attempts to encourage our dog to act as a predator have not worked.  So it’s now N’s responsibility to scare the bunnies away, while the dog wanders around the other side of the yard, sniffing and doing godknowswhat.

I’ve told this story to numerous friends, all of whom have dogs that would love to chase rabbits.  Many have offered to let us borrow their pets, and a few have suggested that said pet might be able to teach Soleil.  They are optimistic, my friends.

We, however, are not.  So we’re building a fence in the front yard, in the hopes it keeps those critters off our damn lawn.

Mountain Biking The Flume

Mountain biker Flume Trail
Single track & lake views.

An early start to spring means that many of the local mountain bike trails are melting out faster than they typically do.  So last weekend was a perfect time to do some recon on the Flume Trail, one of Tahoe’s mountain biking gems that also happens to be one of my favorite rides.

The Flume Trail sits on the east shore of Lake Tahoe, in Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park.  The trail, ranging between 7000 and 8000 feet in elevation, boast some truly amazing panoramas of the lake and the surrounding mountains.  While not a super technical trail, it should be noted that the Flume does have some exposure and crosses a few steep sections.  But the views are definitely worth it! Not a mountain biker? The Flume is also open to hikers.

There are a couple of ways to access the Flume Trail, and the surrounding trail network, which includes sections of the Tahoe Rim Trail, means that you can include it in a longer ride.  Most people start from Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park, taking the trail out to Marlette Lake and along the singletrack that overlooks the lake.  They either ride it one way, descending via Tunnel Creek Road and catching a shuttle back, or do it as an out and back ride, retracing their tracks.   My friend and I opted for something totally different.  We instead climbed up Tunnel Creek Road, and then rode the Flume around Marlette Lake to the Marlette Creek Trail, a super fun 2.7 mile descent back to the car.

I’ve been on this trail countless times, and I continue to be awed by the scenery, and continue to force friends to stop while I take yet another photo.  It’s that spectacular.

So if you’re looking for some advice from a local, trust me on this – if there’s one trail you mountain bike or hike while here, make it the Flume.

If You Go

The Flume Trail is snow-free, though the neighboring sections of the Tahoe Rim Trail do still have snow.  Shuttles, bike rentals, maps and trail information are available from Flume Trail Mountain Bikes.   It is recommended that mountain bikers carry water, snacks, a bike pump and spare tube, bike repair kit, first aid and sunblock, along with a camera to capture the views.  Plus a helmet (duh).

For general Tahoe area mountain bike trail maps and the latest trail conditions, be sure to visit the Tahoe Area Mountain Biking Association’s website.

All Tahoe Clothing Swap

all tahoe clothing swap
Better than a thrift store because it’s all free.

The ski season ended on a whimper this year, and that, coupled with a knee issue that cropped up in March, translated into less skiing and more mountain biking the past two months.  It’s also encouraged me to put energy into other activities.  Such as the All Tahoe Clothing Swap which was held last week at the American Legion in South Lake Tahoe.

A quick step back – I’m a founding member of the Tahoe chapter of the Girls Drinking Club (GDC), a loosely organized group of professional women who don’t feel they need to hide their love of wine behind books, or crafts, or whatever.  We get together weekly at various locations in South Lake Tahoe, usually places with Happy Hour specials, simply to hang out and relax over some drinks and snacks.

It was during one such GDC meeting that we came up with the idea of an All Tahoe Clothing Swap.   The concept was simple – take the concept of a clothing swap, where people trade clothes, and put it on steroids.  Throw in an entry donation of few canned goods to help out Christmas Cheer, a local nonprofit that helps the hungry, and voila, it becomes a fun event with a philanthropic twist.

So the clothing donation part was the one wild card for us – would we generate enough clothing to support those that showed up?  We did…in spades.  My friend Lauren offered up her store’s racks for use at the event so the swap felt more like a thrift store and less like a garage sale.    She also sorted and hung most of the items, which made the swap feel more like a pop-up store.

We can safely say the event was a success.  Tons of folks showed up, lots of clothing was taken away, and plenty of canned goods were provided.  In addition, the extra clothing was split between a few local organizations that need clothing donations.

If you missed this year’s event, don’t worry.  We’ll be doing this again next year – definitely.  And if you know of a free space that we could use to organize clothing, please let me know!

Help Tahoe Win a Bell Built Trail Grant!

Corral Trail rider
Me enjoying Corral Trail last fall. Photo: Jeff Glass

Over the years, mountain biking has become as much a passion of mine as skiing. I’m not great at it, but I love climbing local trails in order to enjoy the thrill of the descent. So it should come as no surprise that I am a member of the Tahoe Area Mountain Bike Association (TAMBA). What you may not know is that thanks to TAMBA’s continued efforts, a South Lake Tahoe trail is now in the running to win a $30,000 grant – and we need your help (and vote) to win it!

The Bell Built program helps communities build sustainable trails, including pump tracks, flow trails, and downhill trails. Of the more than 100 applications submitted from across the country, TAMBA’s submission of the Corral Trail in South Lake Tahoe has been selected as one of the twelve finalists.

The grant includes the construction of 30 jumps and features on Corral Trail, a hugely popular local that has served as a test project by the US Forest Service on how to build and permit mountain bike specific features on public Forest Land. These efforts go back 8 years now and have had many riders give input.

Once all the planned features are built on Corral Trail TAMBA will be able to take this model and apply it elsewhere in the Tahoe basin. The Bell Built grant is for projects that have approved plans and are shovel-ready, meaning they can start building this spring. Corral is just that.

Want to help? It’s easy. Just vote Corral Trail for Flow Trail Projects by April 12 here: http://www.facebook.com/BellBikeHelmets/app_228716427271717

And be sure to share this with your friends, family, mountain biking partner, drinking buddies, etc.

This is a terrific opportunity for mountain bikers who love to ride Lake Tahoe.  It is the only California project, so this honor, along with the hard work to buff out this classic trail, will make it a role model for future progressive trails that can be built on Forest Service lands.

Don’t delay – vote for Corral Trail for Flow Trail projects today!

Praxis Backcountry Ski Review

I really didn’t think I needed another pair of skis, but apparently N saw a hole in my not-insubstantial quiver late last year. One that could be filled with a pair of Praxis Backcountry skis. While I was skeptical at first, I realized that not only did they fill an admittedly small hole in my quiver, they are now replacing some of my other skis.

Praxis is a freeride oriented ski company based here at Lake Tahoe, one that builds their skis in house. While most of what they focus on are powder and freeride skis, the Backcountry model is designed for people who want to earn their turns efficiently, but not necessarily compromise the descent.

Skiing the Praxis Backcountry inbounds
Skiing the Praxis Backcountry inbounds

Coming in at a little over 7 lbs in the 170 length, the Praxis Backcountry ski is a lightweight ski that doesn’t sacrifice weight for performance. Its dimensions (131/106/121), camber underfoot, and rockered tip and tail combine to create a versatile ski design for a wide range of snow conditions. I took the Backcountry with me on a recent ski trip to Canada, and found it skied well on a variety of conditions. But I’m jumping ahead.

This particular model has been around for a few years, but apparently there were some significant changes made this year. The skis have carbon fiber in the construction, which helps reduce the weight. Carbon fiber had been an option in the past, but this year it was included in the Backcountry by default. This allowed Praxis to include maple hardwood around the edge of the ski core. If you think of a tennis racket, where the torsional stiffness comes from the ‘frame’ of maple around the edge and tip / tail areas, that’s what the Backcountry looks like inside. For the tech nerds out there, this core design is enabled by the CNC milling machine at the Praxis factory, and makes it a bit different than the typical ski.

Praxis at Mammoth
Praxis backcountry at work in-resort

While weight tends to correlate to stiffness, these lightweight skis are also stiffer than any other backcountry ski I’ve owned. See the tennis racket analogy above. This is not a bad thing, and was particularly useful when at the ski resorts. I found no chatter at higher speeds, even on firmer snow conditions. It had great edge control on the groomers, and the front rise plus turn radius meant that short turns and bumps, while not my preferred ski style and terrain, were doable.

In the backcountry, these skis really excelled. They climbed easily, and even with the tip rise, my skin tails stayed on. Certainly they ski well in blower pow, but they really shine in variable (read: backcountry) snow conditions. I really noticed the feeling of not being as spent after a longer climb, which translated into me enjoying the descents much more.

That said, there were some growing pains. They were hooky at first, and I had a hell of a time on groomed snow, which I found out later was because they were edge high. But after N, aka the Ski Valet™, spent time detuning the edges in the rocker zone, and put a slight base bevel on the edges underfoot, the issues went away.

Praxis builds its skis in three stiffnesses – medium, medium/stiff and stiff. According to the Ski Valet, my Backcountry’s were medium, which was the standard stiffness for that model. Custom stiffness options are available at no extra charge, which is awesome.

Unlike other skis I’ve been on that are designed for the backcountry, the Praxis is a versatile ski that can hold its own both within resort boundaries and outside them. It was an ideal ski for our recent ski safari.

More importantly, it’s a ski that’s fun to ski on, which, to my mind, is the whole point.

Ski Safari, Part 5: Mt. Baker

Mt Baker
Smiling ’cause his jacket was waterproofed recently.

While our drive to Bellingham along the Trans-Canada Highway was sunny and clear, the next day’s forecast was wet.  So wet that Mt. Baker’s snow report had the rare statement of ‘light rain’ at the base.  That’s a forecast no ski marketer usually admits to, so we went up expecting a downpour. It wasn’t that bad.  Wet snow, yes, and I quickly learned that I needed to re-waterproof my ski jacket and pants, but the terrain is super fun, and I finally had a chance to ski with my niece.  That she insisted on skiing a double black diamond chute (her first) with us really capped off the day.

It also capped off a fun trip, since from there it was all about the marathon drive back to Tahoe, broken up with a few stops along the way.

Would I do it again? Absolutely - ski vacations are fun, and something we’ve not done often, seeing how we live in such an awesome ski destination like Tahoe. Though the next time I want to stop at some other smaller Oregon and California resorts, like Willamette Pass, Mt. Hood and Mt. Shasta Ski Park.

So, next year – who’s up for it?