Home » 2016 Christmas in Tahoe

South Lake Tahoe, CA

Sunday, December 25, 2016 - 11:15am by Lolo
205 miles and 4 hours from our last stop - 2 night stay


Alpenglow over Lake TahoeAlpenglow over Lake TahoeAlthough we were pretty much packed beforehand, the final loading of the car in the morning was once again a spectacle of excess – two snowboards, two pairs of downhill skis, three pairs of cross country skis, plus food, clothing, etc.

Since Herb’s Forester has the most storage capacity, we switched the Thule car-top box from Tommy’s car onto Herb’s, loaded it up, and hit the road. Even with that, Tommy and I were squooshed together on half of the backseat, shackled together by one seatbelt. Let’s just say that it was very cozy.

After decades of shoveling snow in New Jersey, I definitely like the Northern California concept of “driving to the snow.” As soon as we hit the tiny town of Kyburz (population 167) on Route 50, we were in a virtual winter wonderland. Cars were parked alongside the road for miles, with families pulled over to play in the snow. What a wonderful Christmas scene! Our already high spirits were soaring.

Our cozy little cabin in Camp RichardsonOur cozy little cabin in Camp RichardsonI didn’t know what to expect in terms of our cabin at Camp Richardson, but when we checked in we were totally blown away. Everything about it exceeded expectations – the two bedrooms were roomy, the kitchen was well stocked, the gas stove was already lit to greet us, and our picture window looked out over Lake Tahoe. “I’ve done it,” I gloated, as I saw the pleased looks on the faces of my adoring family.

After unpacking, we took a walk along the snow-covered beach, admiring and photographing the colorful alpenglow over the lake and surrounding mountains. We also watched in awe as one brave (or perhaps crazy) young man, obviously put up to it by his friends, stripped down to swimming trunks and jumped in.

Back at our cozy little cabin, we cooked dinner and played Trivial Pursuits, before heading out once again for a walk – this time towards the nearby Tallac Historic Site, where there are three “Old Tahoe” style estates from the early 1900s, back when Tahoe was a summer retreat for the socially prominent families of San Francisco.

Beach walkBeach walkWhen we come to Camp Richardson in the summer, we love running on the paths that weave in and out of the estates, and even have returned in the evenings to sit in the rocking chairs on the porch of one, pretending that we were members of the "vieux riche."

Although we had headlamps, it was too dark to really get an appreciation for the homes, so we decided to walk back along the snowy beach and return to the Site another time when it was still light out.

As we were walking along the beach, we came across a large snowy ball, which looked like the bottom of a snowman. However, upon closer inspection, we realized that it was actually a snow-covered mooring ball.

It was while staring at this “ball” that the idea of a Gaidus “Feats of Strength” competition was born – inspired by the Seinfeld Festivus episode. However, rather than try to pin each other to the ground as the Costanzas did, we decided that our feat of strength would be lifting the large snow-covered mooring ball over our heads and throwing it as far as we could.

Herb immediately began whining that he didn’t want to throw his back out and ruin his chances of skiing the next day. However, he was taunted into participating by his sons.

Feats of StrengthFeats of StrengthI reluctantly went first, but the damn thing was so heavy that I couldn’t even lift it over my head, and sort of just rolled it before removing myself from the competition and declaring myself the line judge for their throws.

I have probably never laughed so hard as I watched each of my loved ones take a turn at hoisting a ridiculous beach-ball sized object that weighed about 30 extremely awkward pounds over their heads, stepping up to a line drawn in the snow, and hurling it as far as they could. The “feat” was generally accompanied by a loud grunting sound, especially in Herb’s case.

I think that Tommy won by about three inches, but in reality we were all winners in that no one threw their backs out and the only pain we felt was from laughing so hard. Plus, a new Gaidus Christmas tradition had been born.

Cross Country Skiing and more Reindeer Games

Trail to Fallen Leaf LakeTrail to Fallen Leaf LakeThe next morning when I stumbled out of our bedroom, I found Herb ever so cozily sipping coffee in a chair by the stove, peacefully gazing out over the lake. It was so idyllic that I had to stop myself from further gloating as to delivering the family the perfect holiday experience.

It was difficult though, because everything was breaking my way this trip. First there was the fortuitous timing of my call to Camp Richardson to book a cabin an hour after someone had canceled the last available one.

Then there was the timing of the snowstorm on Christmas Eve - delivering a white Christmas and providing enough snow to cross country ski, while giving the road crews enough time to clear the roads before our arrival on Christmas day.

So, thanks to the storm, today we would cross country ski, right from our cabin through the forest to Fallen Leaf Lake, a few miles south of Lake Tahoe, and then back along the trails that wound through the Tallac Historic Site.

Herb, Tommy, and I had brought our own cross country skis, but Andrew needed to rent them. Fortunately, Camp Richardson has its own Mountain Sports Center, right on the premises next to the RV campground, so it was very convenient to just walk over and pick up a pair. At $19 for a full day, the price was very reasonable as well.

Family by Fallen Leaf LakeFamily by Fallen Leaf LakeThe staff was extremely helpful suggesting places to ski. They pointed us to a trail that started right behind their building that would bring us over to Fallen Leaf Lake.

About 8 inches of snow had fallen – not enough for them to machine groom the trails, but still plenty to ski on. The conditions were excellent, and since we were far from being the first skiers on them, no trail breaking was necessary.

After about 2 1/2 miles through the woods, we came to our first view of pristine Fallen Leaf Lake with snow-covered Mount Tallac across the way. We took off our skis and scampered down to lake level to better enjoy the view.

From there we skied to a beach on the northern end of the lake where there was a bench and a large rock about 100 feet from the shoreline, just begging to have snowballs thrown at it. Of course, we spent the next ½ hour taking turns trying to hit the rock with snowballs. What is it with this family and “Feats of Strength?”

From there, we skied back through the woods and across Route 89 to our cozy little cabin on the lake to have lunch.

Herb XC skiing on Baldwin BeachHerb XC skiing on Baldwin BeachAfter lunch we went out on the skis again, this time through the Tallac Historic Site, which we had been unable to appreciate in the dark the night before, and out to Baldwin Beach for more terrific views of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding mountains.

It was getting near 3:00 and the Mountain Outdoor Center closed at 4:00, so we skied back along the beach so that Andrew could return his skis in time. Not quite done yet, after the drop-off, we continued east along the southern shore of the lake to Pope Beach, three of us on skis and Andrew jogging with a pair of yaktrax attached to his sneakers.

All in all, we skied about 11 miles that day – not a bad day’s work.

Alpine Skiing at Heavenly Mountain Resort

Heavenly GondolaHeavenly GondolaHerb and I originally had no intention of downhill skiing during a busy holiday week, but Tommy convinced us that unlike east coast ski resorts, where you can wait as long as 30 minutes on a lift line, west coast ski resorts are much larger and can move people a lot more quickly.

There are several ski resorts in the South Lake Tahoe area to choose from – Heavenly, Sierra, Kirkwood, to name a few – but Tommy was pretty sure that I would like Heavenly best, because besides the fantastic views, it was a gentler mountain meant more for intermediate skiers.

Okay, we were convinced, so rather than pay the same-day $145 lift ticket price, we bought our discounted ones online the night before for $131 – still a bit pricey as far as I’m concerned. But as the boys said, “This is probably the last time we will ski together as a family.” I’m not sure where I was going? Did they know something I didn’t?

Since we had to drive back to San Francisco today, we got up bright and early so that we could get a lot of skiing in early and hit the road before it got too late. Fortunately Tommy had been to Heavenly many times and, as a result, knew the logistics – park behind Harrah’s Casino and walk with your ski boots right onto the gondola in Heavenly Village.

Heavenly Mountain ResortHeavenly Mountain ResortWe were one of the first ones on the gondola, which scooted us up almost 3,000 feet over 2.4 spectacular miles to Tamarack Lodge, where we could catch another lift to the top of the mountain. The gondola ride was an event in itself, and many people do just that to get to the observation deck, which has wonderful views of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding mountains.

I recorded our skiing that day on Strava, so I know that over a 5-hour period we did 15 runs for a distance of 37.8 miles (counting up and down) and a total elevation gain of 18,534 feet.

With the exception of skiing at Badger Pass in Yosemite last Christmas, which is really a pretty small mountain even by east coast standards, this was Herb’s and my first real west coast skiing experience. I would have to say that it was pretty incredible.


Winter SailingWinter SailingI am not even going to attempt to give a full description of what Lake Tahoe has to offer, as we only spent a short time on its southern shore.

However, briefly, Lake Tahoe is one of the highest elevation lakes (6,255 feet high) in the U.S., as well as the second deepest (1,645 feet deep) – Crater Lake is the deepest. It is located along the border between California and Nevada. The four shores of the lake are each quite different. The north is quiet and upscale, the west and east are more rugged and less developed, and the south shore is busy and tacky with neon-lit hotels and casinos. The 72-mile drive around the lake is very scenic.

Lake Tahoe is known for its clear blue and green waters and the panorama of mountains that surround it on all sides. It is a year-round destination with swimming, boating, kayaking, and various other kinds of water sports during the summer; hiking, backpacking, and camping all year round; and tremendous skiing and snowboarding in the winter.

Two interesting nearby sites we did enjoy, include:

Tallac Historic Site

The Tallac Historic Site is comprised of three private estates dating back to the early 1900s, which served as summer retreats for three very socially prominent families from the San Francisco Bay area. In an effort to preserve “Old Tahoe,” the U.S. Forest Service acquired 74 acres, which included the three estates and a quarter mile of lakefront between Emerald Bay and Camp Richardson.

Today the remains of the restored estates attract thousands of visitors interested in recapturing this bygone and significant era in Tahoe’s history. Although the architecture of each is unique from its neighbors, each captures some aspect of the “Old Tahoe” style.

A list of activities and tours is available at the Visitor Center and the Baldwin museum.

Fallen Leaf Lake

Fallen Leaf LakeFallen Leaf LakeIf the thought of kayaking in a lake as large as Tahoe is a bit intimidating, as it was for me, there is a wonderful alternative just a mile south of Camp Richardson. Fallen Leaf Lake, which was created by glaciers, is approximately 3 miles long and 1 mile wide. If the glacier had continued, Fallen Leaf Lake would have been just another bay in Lake Tahoe.

The land surrounding the lake is privately owned, leased from the U.S. Forest Service, and part of the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit. Except for a marina and store at the southern end of the lake, there is very little commercial development. As a result, the water quality is extremely good.

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Bob Phillips on January 5, 2017

What a wonderful Christmas story. So magical. And it was all real! I thought the two pics of Fallen Leaf Lake, with and without family, were both spectacularly well taken. How beautiful. Be seeing you soon!