Breathing angels' air in Lake Tahoe

Max Ranall, of San Francisco, catches some air on his snowboard on the slopes of the Gold Coast Face run at Squaw Valley in Lake Tahoe, Calif.


By CHUCK BARNEY | The Mercury News | Published: December 8, 2017

It’s funny how a majestic Lake Tahoe vista, all lathered in snow, can bring out vastly different desires in different people.

The adrenaline junkie lays eyes on the powdery terrain and instantly yearns to rip through it at a frantic pace on a pair of skis, or aboard a snarling snowmobile.

Meanwhile, the more laid-back type prefers to position the white-capped peaks as a dreamy backdrop while sipping hot chocolate and listening to live music — or reading a book — in front of a robust fire.

Such is the all-encompassing allure of Tahoe. There are few places on earth that can match its spectacular scenery while simultaneously seducing a wide array of visitors — from adventure-seekers and nature-lovers to gamblers and club-hoppers, artists and lovers.

And yet, the overall sensory effect is typically the same: All that stress brought on by workplace demands and big-city hassles begins to magically melt away as you immerse yourself in the rarefied atmosphere of this winter wonderland. Yes, go ahead and inhale ever so deeply. As Mark Twain once insisted, “To breathe the same air as the angels, you must go to Tahoe.”

Mr. Clemens was obviously onto something.

Of course, the sapphire jewel at the center of it all is that vast body of water straddling the California-Nevada border — that great, big, beautiful, impossibly blue, crystal-clear lake. So mesmerizing. So mysterious. Members of the Washoe Tribe, the region’s first settlers, had to know from the very start that just one look is all it takes to fall under its powerful spell.

But why visit in February? Because even though spring is just around the corner, the slopes usually (knock on wood) are still coated with plenty of white stuff. Just an idea, but doesn’t a Valentine’s Day sunset dinner cruise across the lake and into gorgeous Emerald Bay sound amazing right about now?

This alpine paradise has two distinctive faces: the north side, where the crowds are smaller and plenty of blue bloods roam; and the south side, where the energy is vibrant and they don’t roll up the sidewalks at sundown. Yet another example of how Tahoe caters to disparate personalities.

Both areas combine to offer incredible skiing and snowboarding opportunities. Nine resorts are spread out over 22,000 acres teeming with limitless moguls, jaw-dropping cliffs and breath-taking views of Big Blue. The resorts typically receive 400 inches of snow each winter when not plagued by drought conditions. And whether you’re a beginner or a pro, there are many options to find your bliss while frolicking in the pristine snow.

Of course, if hurtling down a frigid mountain with the wind in your face isn’t your idea of primo fun, you can move indoors and try for a very different kind of thrill at the black jack table.

But if it’s snow you truly want and aren’t a skier, rest assured that there are other ways to enjoy the flakes. A horse-drawn sleigh ride, for example, makes for a leisurely alternative. And there’s snowshoeing, or tobogganing, or cross-country skiing.

Among the most rewarding endeavors is a snowmobile tour of the Sierra’s fir-lined high country — one geared toward newbies and conducted at moderate speeds along smooth, machine-groomed trails. It’s a fun way to appease your wilderness spirit.

Then again, if all you want to do is simply toss a snowball around, there’s that too. As you do, just make sure to savor your surroundings and suck in some of that angel’s air.

Snow covers the Sierra Nevada mountains and the shoreline of Lake Tahoe as seen from Memorial Point, Nev.

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