What will Reno/Tahoe sports be like after all this extra snow and rain?
We’ve already sprung forward and been teased by temperatures in the high 70s, so it’s time to count the days till summer.
But what does a record snow year mean for sports and outdoors enthusiasts during the spring? We turned to the region’s experts and found out that the extreme snowpack and fast-flowing rivers will change a few things—mostly on the calendar. Skiers get a bonus month this year. Campers and anglers will have to wait a while for their seasons to start. And outdoor experts in a couple of high-elevation locales who’ve been watching precipitation patterns for years said, “Weather? What weather?”
Plus, guides from all over talked about some spring-specific hazards to watch out for—some obvious and some you may not have thought of.Spring ski report:Bring the sunscreen, the big one
Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe announced that it will be open through Memorial Day, May 29, this year, just three weeks before the first day of summer.
“Usually we go to late April, around the 20th,” said Mike Pierce, the ski mountain’s marketing director. “Last year we went to May 8.”
“It’s a historic year,” he said. The more than 600 inches of snowfall so far this season? “That’s happened before,” he said, thinking back to the mid ’90s. “But to get this much snow is pretty much unheard of,” he said, referring to the 700 inches or more he expects to see by the season’s end.
For Mt. Rose’s staff, the heavy snowfall has meant some added logistics. “It’s just that much more plowing, that much more clearing of lifts,” Pierce said.
And for skiers and boarders, it means more skiing, more boarding and more partying.
“The powder hounds have had more days than they can remember this year,” said Pierce. And a few extra events will likely be added to the calendar.
“We’re working on that as we speak,” he said. “Exactly what is to be determined. We do deck parties. There’s talk of another Pond Skim.” Yes, a “Pond Skim” is exactly what it sounds like—an event in which brave souls, some dressed as superheroes, gain momentum on a hill, then “skate” across a rectangular pool of water on a snowboard or skis as crowds cheer on the sidelines. And yes, a few people do make it across without falling in.
“In general, spring skiing itself is a party,” Pierce said. “Locals love tailgating.”
One drawback to late-season skiing is “spring snow.” According to the snow-report website On The Snow, spring snow can involve variable surface conditions and exposed rocks, but Pierce isn’t worried.
“We actually can claim some of the best spring snow in the area,” he said. He credits Mt. Rose’s high elevation—the base is at 8,250 feet—and the fact that about half of the runs face north, minimizing sun exposure.
Perhaps the burning question on your mind at this point is: Can I ski in shorts?
Even though Pierce cautioned, “Anybody who lives here long enough knows you can get winter into June,” his best guess is that there will be warm days. He said it’s usual for some late-season skiers and boarders to show up in shorts and bikinis.
If you’re one of them, be one of the smart ones who remembers that the travel-size tube of sunscreen you’ve been dabbing your nose with all winter isn’t going to cut it. Bring the large bottle.Spring fishing: Good things come to those who wade
Anglers have a reputation for being patient, and this year they’ll need to be even more patient, but experts think it’ll pay off in the long run—that being a few years.
First, the good news. We asked Reno Fly Shop’s Jim Litchfield how the fishing will be this year.
“It’ll be great,” he said with no hesitation.
The catch is expected to be about the same as in an average year, he said. So, what’s the “great” part? Litchfield said a wet year is likely to bring heightened visibility and extra enthusiasm to his favorite sport.
“To state the obvious, water’s relatively integral, not only biologically, to the fish and bugs, but for business,” he said. “People will be talking about it. People will be thinking about it. It’ll be around the water cooler.”
“The water will be high, for periods—it will also be cold,” he cautioned. His shop is prepared to outfit anglers with additional gear for managing these conditions, such as boots with spikes and wading staffs, which are basically walking staffs designed to be used in water.
And for anyone wondering what the wide world of fly fishing entails, Litchfield’s website, renoflyshop.com, has an email list sign-up and his podcast. Visitors to his shop, 238 S. Arlington Ave., may well find fishing guides standing there at the ready. (If you want a guarantee, call in advance, but Litchfield said if you’re walking around downtown and get a wild hare, it’s not unusual for an unannounced drop-by to result in a spontaneous fishing trip.)
“If they’re standing around, if there’s a few of them in the shop, we can do a class right then,” he said.
The most important thing Litchfield wants folks to remember is that the river is not a Disneyland attraction. Even the parts of the Truckee that flow through the nicely architected downtown spots are under the governance of Mother Nature.
“Realize it’s a wild environment that needs to be treated with care and respect,” he said.
Chris Healy, public information officer for the Nevada Department of Wildlife, explained how the wet winter will affect the management end of fishing.
“The previous two years to this, we had to stock the river really early in the year, and we also had to stock our urban ponds,” he said. “We had little to no water, and we knew we would have to hurriedly get the fish out of the hatcheries and into the waters before the water dried up.”
The Sparks Marina has already been stocked with 5,000 rainbow trout, but anglers who favor river fishing may have to wait a while. In a typical year, the river is stocked some time between the third week of March and the first week of April.
“We don’t know when we’re going to stock [the Truckee River this year], but we do know back in 2011, because the river was so high, and it made it difficult for anglers to catch fish, we did not start stocking until July.” Healy anticipates similar delays at White’s, Thomas and Galena Creeks.
“We stock those sometimes as early as late May,” he said. “They’re rushing so hard that we’re not sure when we’re going to be able to stock those. And we’re going to have to get the fish truck in there to stock.”
“Anglers are getting itchy to go out and fish,” Healy said. “They really have to be patient.”
“More importantly, none of us are complaining that we have all this water,” he added. “All the high water is really good for the river. When you have high flows for a long time, it gets rid of siltation. … This is all good news for the wild fish. It cleans out those spawning gravels, gets rid of the silt.”
“We do know through long-term data that we gather after flood events like this—you see an increase in reproduction,” Healy said. “It’s going to take a little while, two or three years, to know.” He said there’s a good chance we’ll see more wild-reproducing brown and rainbow trout over that time period.High-altitude hiking: Trailing behind schedule
For hardcore hikers who cannot wait to hit the trails and don’t mind boots heavy with mud and harder-than-usual creek crossings, the trails in and near Reno are currently traversable. Up the hill, it’s a little more complicated.
“Snow levels up in higher elevations, anything that has a north facing aspect will have snow longer,” said the Tahoe Rim Trail Association’s Justine Lentz. She mentioned that parking access will likely be compromised by lingering snow near spots such as Tahoe Meadows.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t go hiking. It just means you need to up your game and be extra-prepared. Lentz advised keeping several tips in mind. First, plan your route accordingly if you’re hiking near Lake Tahoe.
“Typically the east shore tends to melt out first, but the west shore and those higher elevations, who knows,” she said. It could be late into July for some trails. If you do want to start high-elevation hiking before the snow melts, strapping crampons onto your boots will make snow hiking doable. Lentz advised carrying a GPS and brushing up on your navigation skills. It’s a lot easier to get lost when the trail is covered with snow. And trail stewards ask that people avoid hiking and biking on muddy trails.
“It does do significant damage,” Lentz said.
While foliage is about as predictable as weather, Lentz and others do have high hopes for a great wildflower year. Carson Pass is one place to keep an eye out for a good flower show.
One final reminder for hikers this spring. Whether you want to trounce some trails close to town at, say, Hunter Creek, or wait for the snowmelt to start up near South Lake Tahoe, here’s one word to keep in mind on a super-wet year: Waterfalls. OK, two words: Epic waterfalls.Kayaking and whitewater rafting: Go with the flow
Jordan Golnik is a whitewater photographer and an avid kayaker in Coloma, California, near Auburn, and he answered the question “How’s the kayaking this year?” with something like “duh”—but much friendlier.
“Obviously we’re going to have a ton of water, a lot of high water, significantly higher than in the past few years, through June, July” he said. “This will mean a lot of work for people in the guide industry—and tourism for local businesses.”
For beginning kayakers, Golnik said, “We are lucky to have rivers like the Truckee and American that have sections, even in high runoff years, that are still pretty forgiving and pretty friendly. … It’s going to be a great year to get into kayaking—more releases on different rivers.”
And for the daredevils—Golnik was hard pressed to narrow down which spots might be the experts’ picks this year. He led with, “Everywhere,” adding that the rivers near Coloma—and the entire High Sierra region—look promising, and that the advanced, Class-V rapids, eight-foot drops and granite boulders at Yosemite’s Cherry Creek sound appealing, too.
As with other sports this year, the season is likely to be pushed back in some places. Actually, kayakers are a hardy bunch—the season never really closes. They’re already out enjoying the heavy flows in spots like the Truckee in downtown Reno and the Yuba River near Nevada City. But for other prime spots, they’ll have to wait.
“Flow windows are short and difficult to predict most times,” Golnik said. But he’s betting that many runs that tend to become possible early in the summer in a drier year won’t be navigable till fall this year.”
Lorraine Hall has been the office manager at Tributary Whitewater Tours in Lotus for at least 30 years, and she is not fazed by the recent snow dumps—or by the raging rivers that follow.
“It’s not the first time we’ve seen high water,” she said.
Her operation will likely start river rafting tours in April.
Meanwhile, she said, “Our guides are out there on the rivers as we speak, checking out which things get moved around. … Early in the season we have to be particularly careful for trees and debris that might have come in.” Over a harsh winter, riverbeds can change, and rapids are likely to work differently than they did the previous year.
“A path that was to the left of a rock last year might be to the right this year,” Hall said. “Gravel bars change. Rocks move. Our guides know how to read whitewater and act accordingly.”
After decades of watching the weather, she advised, “You can never predict what Mother Nature’s going to do” and recommends a high level of awareness and caution for paddlers.
“You kind of have to be ahead of the curve,” she said.
“Eldorado County just put out a warning for private boaters,” Hall said. “Some people haven’t always got a large amount of common sense and get themselves in trouble, and it’s horrific. People can lose their lives through not understanding what’s going on, and it reflects badly on everyone.” According to the website, no paddlers have died under Tributary Whitewater Tours’ watch.
For the prepared and the cautious, Hall said, “It’s going to be a great season for people to get out there and do some stuff that hadn’t been available.”Summer camping: Pack the s’mores—eventually
If Reno or Tahoe is your home base and you like to camp, you basically live in the middle of a mother lode of amazing spot for sleeping under the stars. Within driving distance are the entire Sierra Nevada range, Northern Nevada’s beautiful high desert, Southern Nevada’s wonderland of low-elevation desert gems, our beloved Black Rock Desert, the balmier coastal regions of California’s Bay Area and Sonoma Coast, and a few national parks. And that means you can, in most years, camp somewhere every month of the year. Here are reports from two popular camp spots. The theme, yet again, is: Be prepared.
At some mountain camping areas, such as Lassen National Volcanic Park, it’s likely to be business as usual for campers this year—but let’s review what “business as usual” means. As park ranger Shanda Ochs said, people often are surprised by the conditions when they get there.
“A lot of people come not expecting the snow,” she said. “They’ll come in April, May or even June.”
Also potentially surprising, the trail to Lassen Peak, at above 10,000 feet, sometimes isn’t hike-able until summer.
“On average, if we’ve got a regular snow season, it’ll be hike-able without a whole lot of snow usually by late June or early July,” Ochs said.
People are also sometimes disappointed to find that the park’s main road can stay closed due to snow well into spring.
And when the website says, “Southwest Walk-in Campground open year-round,” that may well mean you’re pitching a tent on top of a 10-foot snow cliff or sleeping in a vehicle in the parking lot. (Don’t knock it till you try it. Trouncing around in the dark on a 10-foot snow cliff with a flashlight and stumbling across an ambitious Boy Scout troop’s encampment of snow caves and igloos is an experience magical enough to be worth braving the cold for.)
Ranger-led snowshoe tours at Lassen are scheduled through April 2 this year.
Michael Myers, executive director of Friends of Black Rock-High Rock, lives in Gerlach and had this report about the Black Rock’s playa, as of early March: “Basically from [the three-mile entrance] out to Black Rock Point, it’s covered in water.”
You already know it’s easy to get stuck in the mud out there. Also consider, said Myers, “The bigger thing that will impact the wetness of the playa will be any spring storms we get. Because of the saturation we have had, any storms might have a longer lasting impact.” As with all things weather, it’s impossible to say for sure what to expect, but Myers offered a rough guideline to think about—A passing summer storm that may have had a vehicle stuck in slick mud for a few hours in a drier year could have it stuck for days.
He reckons this season’s moisture will replenish some nearby springs and make for a particularly pretty year in other parts of the Black Rock.
“There’s a lot of snowpack in the Granite Mountains,” he said. “When you get up into the mountains in the wilderness areas, there are lots of little side canyons and creeks that flow seasonally. We’re probably going to have more wildflowers.”
Myers recommends putting off spring travel in the Black Rock until as late as possible. He cautioned that the secondary roads have been roughed up by the winter snow and rain, and that roads that were accessible last year aren’t necessarily passable this spring.
Some Burning Man participants, whose event takes place on that flat playa, spend the summer facetiously surmising whether it’ll be dusty year during the event in late August and early September. Will all this extra water mean a harder-packed playa and clearer air this year? Don’t get your hopes up.
“Intuition would suggest that would be the case,” he said. “But in reality more and more people recreate on the playa.” And with the crowds, crews, trucks and RVs that come in before and during the event, Myers said, “I imagine the dust is going to be similar to the way it always is.”