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All about Tahoe area

A view of Royal Gorge from Point Mariah.

A view of Royal Gorge from Point Mariah.

Photo By Tim Hauserman

While it's the big boys of the downhill ski world that suck up all the newsprint when it comes to skiing at Lake Tahoe, it’s the cross-country ski resorts that keep a lot of endorphin-crazed locals happy all winter long. Sure, downhill is a thrill, but if you spend your summer pushing the bike pedals or running along the river, it’s time to get your exercise fix by taking up skate skiing or track skiing at one of the incredible Nordic resorts near Lake Tahoe. In addition to getting your heart pumping, cross-country ski resorts have a distinct advantage over their downhill counterparts: They are small and sparsely populated. You can park your car, put on your comfy boots, carry your lightweight skis and poles to the trailhead and be skiing in two minutes or less. Just ski a few kilometers away from the lodge at a cross-country center, and you might have the trails to yourself.

Conveniently, three cross-country ski areas lie within an easy hour's drive of Reno: Royal Gorge, Tahoe Donner and Tahoe Cross-Country. A bit further, but well worth an occasional visit, is Kirkwood Cross-Country. All the areas offer a variety of ticket plans, ski and snowshoe rentals and both skating and striding lessons. So get out there.

At Donner Summit,, 200 kilometers of trails and eight warming huts. (530) 426-3871.

Billed as America's largest cross-country ski resort, Royal Gorge has been through a roller coaster ride over the last few years. It was sold by its original owner to a pair of developers, who after paying a high price based on their expectation of developing it into an extensive residential and ski community, faced fierce opposition from Donner Summit locals and the collapse of the economy, and eventually lost it in foreclosure. Just in time for last year's ski season, Royal Gorge was purchased by a group of organizations including the Truckee Donner Land Trust, whose intent was to keep it as a cross-country ski area. Sugar Bowl took over the ski area operations and some are now reporting that the skiing at Royal Gorge is the best it has ever been.

Best views: Not to be missed is a ski out to Point Mariah, where the 360-degree panoramic views of the Sierra include the spectacle of the Royal Gorge itself, a 4,000-foot drop to the North Fork of the American River. Another impressive trail is Razorback, which takes you to the top of a narrow ridge, getting up close and personal with the Pacific Crest. I also like the wide open Stage Coach trail with impressive views of knife-edged Devil's Peak.

Other cool stuff: The Sugar Bowl Interconnect Trail brings you from Royal Gorge to the Sugar Bowl Lodge.

At Truckee,, 100 kilometers of trails and five warming huts, (530)587-9484.

Whether you are trying out the easy trails near the lodge, gliding through the solitude of Euer Valley, or taking the seemingly never-ending climb to the top of Hawks Peak, there really is something for everyone at Tahoe Donner.

Best Views: If you really want to get a great view and are also determined to burn off those holiday calories, then head up to the hut at the top of Drifter trail. The views are incredible, and the fast descent will give you a chance to catch your breath. Then head for Euer Valley, where the extensive trail system includes challenging climbs, and—via Last Round Up and Coyote Crossing—a long mellow glide through a Sierra valley surrounded by spectacular mountains.

Other cool stuff: The lodge café dishes out excellent lunch fare, and the Cook House in Euer Valley is a secluded spot to rendezvous with your buds.

At Tahoe City,, 65 kilometers of trails and four warming huts, (530)583-5475.

Tahoe Cross Country has a relaxed homey feel and an extensive network of trails over fun rolling terrain. While on bluebird days several trails bring you to views of Lake Tahoe, when it's stormy, there are places to glide through the trees sheltered from the wind.

Best Views: While the short, steep climb up to the Lakeview Trail gives you the best views of Tahoe, the dips and turns heading out to another Tahoe view at the hut on the Silver Trail are my favorite. First pay the necessary penance of climbing to the top of the Gold Trail, then reward yourself with the thrill of the whoop de doing down Bronze to Silver.

Other cool stuff: Tahoe XC has free skating clinics several days a week, and season pass holders are treated to free cookies and coffee. They also offer 10 kilometers of dog-friendly trails, so go ahead and bring Rex.

At Kirkwood,, there are 80 kilometers of trails and three warming huts, (209)258-7248.

Pick a beautiful sunny day when the snow is deep, and you will enjoy the inspiring drive up Highway 88 over Carson Pass to Kirkwood Cross-Country. Situated at 7800 feet, Kirkwood always seems to get the most snow of any ski area in the region, so it could be your early or late season choice.

Best Views: The Schneider Camp network of trails brings you to open bowls with spectacular views. Start by climbing steadily on Outpost Trail to the Last Round Up, where you will bask in the glory of Round Top Mountain and Elephants Back.

Other Cool Stuff: Did I mention the extraordinary views? Also if you have any friends who like the lifts, they can drop you off at the cross country center, then drive an extra mile to the Kirkwood Mountain Resort.