Tuesday, February 12, 2008

08Feb10 – Sierra Summit with Ross

Even though last weekend was probably epic ski conditions, it was definitely looking like a epic driving odyssey, so we opted to go skiing this weekend instead. Ross had agreed to meet us in the mountains, which dictated that we go to Sierra Summit east of Fresno to split driving times more equally. Driving up into the foothills above Fresno, past Millerton Lake, the recent developments are transforming the landscape. A major casino at Table Mountain along with an associated golf course has triggered housing, road widening, and a spattering of roadside establishments where previously we could previously just see cattle and coyotes. An obvious advantage is that the road is great all the way up to snow line, and there is no real “crush time” from a casino – it seems to me once people go in, they never come out. There are only snow park permitted parking and limited commercial development in the National Forest on Route 168 above the unnamed hamlet of Prather.

(By the way, The ranger is pleased to have you leave car pooled cars at the ranger station parking lot for the weekend if you wish to carpool up to the higher elevations. )

As we climbed up the mountains, the snow just kept getting deeper and deeper. Once route 168 ends and the road becomes simply Lakeshore Rd, the pavement seems to end as well – replaced with a thick uneven coat of ice and snow. Both the Sierra Summit resort and the Lakeshore resort offer RV camping at significantly reduced rates – even including electrical hook-ups. With day time temperatures approaching 50 deg. F, camping out in the RV would be no problem. It was still going below freezing at night, but with prudent heat management in the camper we could have easily camped.

The drive from Oakland to Sierra Summit is about 4.5 hours – just about equal to the drive from San Luis Obispo. There are plenty of snow park permit areas along the highway, and it looks like wonderful ski terrain from a number of locations.

As it was, we made our reservations at the peak of the snow storms and opted for a small heated cabin with two twin beds, a bath room, and a kitchen at Lakeshore Resort. The resort has a Saloon, a general store, and lots of what appears to be partially operational snow related machinery scattered about. The snow banks had claimed all sorts of other machinery but there was apparently adequate horsepower to keep the snow gullies open between the major structures. Our cabin was mostly buried. There were all matter of snowmobiles scooting about and I imagine that they constitute the bulk of the resort’s winter income.

The ski resort is a small affair with a base above 8,000 feet and 8 lifts. It is very family friendly, with lots of picnic tables and a large terrain park. There are no high speed lifts, but that keeps the slopes relatively uncrowded. Most of the open slopes are groomed, and what is not groomed would be fantastic in powder conditions. We had to wait until later in the day to venture off piste, as the boiler plate was impenetrable until then. Click to jump to Sierra Summit Ski Resort

We are here at the very end of a remote highway in the belly of the high Sierra. From the summit there is no other development to be seen. The air is clear and quiet once away from the rumbling base of the resort. There are regular over flights of ravens and at the slope’s edge animal tracks are visible – perhaps seeking out the crumbs dropped off the chair lifts.

Driving back down the mountain we drove past Shaver lake which had not frozen over. The docks were still in place which leads me to believe it rarely freezes over. It did seem odd seeing the totally abandoned marina. Along the water’s edge my camera’s long lens pulled in the details of animal tracks.

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