A handful of Sierra ski resorts have opened up with the help of man-made snow. There’s not much terrain open yet, but the real stuff will soon be along and with it, the crowds. Although I miss living in the mountains, among their majesty and mystery - and I miss winter in the Sierras the most - I sure don’t miss the tourists.
And now I am one. A tourist. A flat-lander. I’ll make my weekend pilgrimage up the hill, spend my money – lots of it – and come home. I’ll be contributing to the local economy while extracting from it its serenity - adding to the traffic, the pollution and the noise. Living in a tourist town is like expecting houseguests every weekend. For one or two days out of seven, the trade-offs seem worth it.
And like houseguests, some are more respectful than others. Many pick up after themselves, wait their turn and don’t use everything up. They are gracious, appreciative and are welcome back. Others would never be invited back – but a tourist town doesn’t get to pick and choose. Therefore, we could expect the rude, the obnoxious, the filthy and the snobs. Every weekend. It’s part of the game.
Still, for five days out of seven, the slopes were ours. There are no lift lines, not much litter, plenty of parking and no traffic. When the big storms come through mid-week, dump their load of white gold and close the mountain passes, guess who gets to enjoy all that powder? Who’s out there laying first tracks while the schools and many businesses close their doors in appreciation of one of the Sierra’s most precious gifts.
It has been some years now that I have called Truckee my home. My connections for free lift tickets have all moved on. I now pay full price like all the other flat-landers. And I am respectful as much as any guest should be anywhere. I know how trying it can be. I know how just one out-of-towner waiting at an intersection while waiving me through can make my day. I take with me and dispose of that which I brought and I pick up after my inconsiderate tourist brethren as well, because if I don’t those who live there must.
And for the price of respect, I get to bask in Mother Nature’s magic. For a precious few days this winter, I will revel in the power that can be dangerous as it is exhilarating, treacherous and inviting, beautiful and stark. For this privilege, the residents of Truckee and Tahoe City, of Crystal Bay and Incline - even the more densely populated fraternal twins, Stateline and South Lake Tahoe – all feel an impact.
And to be fair, there are locals, some perhaps are long-time residents who remember a time of solitude, that do not accept this necessary evil. Some meet disrespect with disrespect – a few do so proactively. Indeed, it is not always the visitor who draws the first foul. For the most part, however, the impact left by the weekend warriors is evident on Monday morning. Every resort parking lot bears witness to the unmitigated gall of some who can’t walk ten feet – less –to the nearest garbage can. The juvenile behavior of a few can sour a whole community, leaving a nasty taste in its collective mouth.
But tolerate it they must, year after year. A tourist town’s life’s blood is the tourist dollar – and, of course, the tourist. Either by design or default, some destinations resonate with the masses. For those who have been to Truckee and Lake Tahoe, I need not explain. To those that haven’t, words can’t do it justice and even if worth a thousand words, pictures don’t either.
I remember driving on State Route 267 from Truckee to Kings Beach. Just after cresting Brockway summit at 7,179 feet, the lake in all her majesty is laid out in front of me. As often as I made that trek, it always took my breath away, be it mid summer or mid blizzard. Never mind the casinos, the resorts, the cabins or the quaint mountain towns… it’s the lake that draws us. It was inevitable.
Photo honorably stolen from Prairie Roots Photography