Educational outing in Oroville combines the past and the present

Educational outing in Oroville combines the past and the present

Once a bath house, this is now a nature center in Oroville. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Days gone by and current events were fused into one outing recently in Oroville.

The hiking group leader had us meet at the Oroville Nature Center, which I didn’t even know existed, before we began our trek to the spillway of the Oroville Dam.

The grounds at the Oroville nature center. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Oroville is full of history, which I am slowly discovering.

Long before the Oroville Dam was completed in 1967 the Feather River flowed unencumbered through this Butte County city.  This area was home to the Maidu Indians; they would fish for salmon and lived off native berries, acorns and grasses.

Then the white people more than disrupted their lives. They saw the river and turned the land into farms. When gold was discovered in the Feather River in 1949, well, there was definitely no going back.

The Feather River is not this tranquil in every location. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

“The miners soon overran the area, driving the native people into the hills,” according to information at the nature center. “The miners would float their ore and logs for lumber down the river to the beach near the ferry to be taken ashore. A few years later, a covered bridge was built where the old ‘Green Bridge’ is now.”

As part of the federal Works Projects Administration during the Depression a bath house for men and women was built steps from the river in 1935; this area became Oroville’s first public park.

“In December 1937, there was a very bad flood that did major damage to the surrounding area. The sandy beach was washed out, and an undertow current replaced it,” reads information from the nature center. “The flood waters went right through the bath house and also washed away the caretaker’s cottage. With the swimming hole and beach gone, the bath house, although undamaged, was abandoned.”

Hikers stroll past wildflowers like this dichelostemma along the trail. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The stone structure crumbled through the decades to the point that by the 1980s not much of it was standing. The city was ready to tear it down completely. Locals said don’t you dare. Local Rex Burress is credited with the idea of turning the structure into a nature center by restoring the building, walkways and planters. Community cleanup began in 1996.

Now the center, which was restored with and by donations and volunteers, is open to the public. Inside it’s more like a museum. The outside is a peaceful oasis. It’s goal is “to bring people and nature together.”

From here we drove a short ways down the same road to begin the hike. We started on the Brad Freeman Trail, which wanders through grassy areas that had a few wildflowers blooming on the last Saturday of April.

Some of the time we were next to the river, other times a little ways away to the point you didn’t even know it was so close.

Water flows from the Oroville spillway in late April. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Soon glimpses of the spillway came into view. As we kept walking its thundering roar took over. Then it was right in front of us.

While I’ve seen the spillway in action the last two springs, this afforded the opportunity to be a bit closer because of being right on the river.

The dam was built primarily for flood control purposes. That flood that swept through the bath house (now nature center) wasn’t a fluke in the 1930s. It was the norm. That history, though, should never repeat itself based on modern engineering.

Napa Valley ideal destination for mountain biking

Napa Valley ideal destination for mountain biking

Mostly dirt and only a few rocks on the trails in Angwin in the Napa Valley. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Wildflowers fluttering in meadows full of wispy grass, an obstacle course of sorts, miles of single track, mostly shaded trails with no other riders sharing our route.

It was ideal.

Five us spent our last day in the Napa Valley exploring the mountain bike trails in Angwin, which is near Howell Mountain.

Donna, Joyce, Barb, Becky and Kae along a meadow at Angwin. (Image: Donna Rockwood)

Signage is atrocious. We had no idea which trails we were on. But it didn’t matter. We didn’t mind making a couple U-turns.

We did loops, which are lot of fun … up one way, down another. This could make for seemingly endless options. Going up one section is never the same as descending it.

It would be easy to go back and not be bored. Plus, there is more to this area than what we pedaled on.

Green grasses sway in the breeze alongside the mountain bike trail. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

We came across a race course of sorts with features to go over. I opted to be the photographer and not a participant.

On this last Friday of April the weather was ideal. My guess with the cold spring much of Northern California has experienced the flowers were not at their peak. Short, deep purple irises dotted the trail at different times. But the cooler temps also meant the grasses were a lush green, which won’t last much longer.

While we saw poison oak, none of us got it this trip.

We parked at Angwin-Parrett Field, aka the airport parking area, which sits at an elevation of 1,848 feet.

We put in 9.3 miles, with 938 feet of elevation. It was a lot of up and down, as opposed to steady climbing.

Table Mountain wildflowers slow to sprout in chilly spring

Table Mountain wildflowers slow to sprout in chilly spring

A multitude of wildflowers in early April start to bloom at Table Mountain. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

With it being such a cold, wet spring, the flowers at Table Mountain were far from their peak on the first Friday of April.

The good thing about this is that we were also able to see plenty of water flowing from the falls.

Douglas violets stand out in the wild green grasses at Table Mountain. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

In other words, we were on sensory overload (almost) with this becoming a waterfall and wildflower hike. With how the clouds appeared in layers, some eclipsing the sun, it made for interesting shadows and an added depth to the natural landscape.

North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve in Oroville is 3,315 acres of land that the state has owned since October 1993.

Blue dicks sprout from a field of goldfields. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It might be another week or so before the flowers will be the most robust. Poppies were just popping, with most of them closed up when we were there because of the cool temperatures. The few lupine that were out were not very tall.

Red larkspur hug a wall of rock. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

This will all change as more normal spring temperatures persist and the rains go away.

Goldfields create a carpet throughout much of the terrain. Against the volcanic rock that is everywhere, the contrast of light and dark is stunning.

It’s as though the flowers at Table Mountain touch the horizon. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The California Native Plant Society says Table Mountain is the best place to see sky lupines, purple owl’s clover and the rare, endemic yellow-flowered Jokerst’s clover.

Some of the other flowers at this preserve include: birds-eye gilia, frying pans (a type of poppy), white nemophila, yellow monkeyflowers, blue dicks, Sierra mock stonecrop, white meadowfoam, paintbrushes, bitterroot, and redmaids.

Mother Nature creates a bouquet of flowers. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Remember, don’t pick a bouquet of wildflowers unless they are growing in your yard. Yes, some people actually need to be told this.

Tennis shouldn’t be sacrificed to grow pickleball

Tennis shouldn’t be sacrificed to grow pickleball

“Pickleball players gave us money.”

That’s what one of the board members who manages the parks in Chico told a group of tennis players who attended their latest meeting.

We were there because of a rumor going around that more courts were going to be converted to pickleball. We wanted to let the powers that be know that we weren’t going to stand by idly and watch our sport be taken from us.

It seems unconscionable that a city with more than 100,000 people only has four tennis courts. No longer are the high school and college courts public.

Pickleball courts are replacing tennis courts in Chico. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I won’t argue whether pickleball could use more courts. But I will argue that it should not be at the sacrifice of tennis courts.

Community Park used to have eight tennis courts. Incrementally that has decreased to four as they were converted to pickleball. Considering one is used for teaching for nine months out of the year, there are really only three tennis courts.

So many red flags went up for me in the short time we were at the meeting. Like, they favored pickleball over tennis because those people gave them money? Bribery was the first word that came to my mind. It certainly makes me want to get a hold of their financials.

Chico’s parks are run by the Chico Area Recreation District (CARD). It’s a special district with an elected board. All five members are old white men. There’s a lot of that demographic here. Not all of them looked like they even recreate. Yes, I’m being judgmental and I’m OK with that.

Until I went to the meeting I didn’t know CARD wasn’t a department, so to speak, of the city of Chico. I still have a lot to learn about my new hometown.

At the meeting we were told there are no plans for at least five years to change the tennis-pickleball court numbers.

The pro at the tennis courts said he has not been asked to give input about tennis court removal. This is absurd. Another red flag. Why try to grow the game of tennis and not have any place for these people to play?

The following is what I wrote up to read to the CARD board at the March 28 meeting. I was essentially stopped when I said I hoped I had been given wrong info. I did carry on to read the part about their master plan.

It was interesting the board and staff engaged our group in dialog. That doesn’t usually happen with non-agendized public comments. Not sure if this should be another red flag or not; did they violate protocols or the Brown Act? They did violate the Brown Act. I just don’t know if they have to follow it.

OK, here’s what I wrote, which I left with staff to be put in the public record:

Thank you for allowing me the time to speak with you today. My name is Kae Reed. I am a resident of Chico and a regular tennis player at the public courts. 

It has come to my attention the city is considering converting more tennis courts into pickleball courts. I hope I have been given bad information.

Mary Helen Sprecher, managing editor of Sports Destination Management, wrote in the National Recreation and Park Association’s magazine that, “70 percent of all tennis is played at public facilities, either free or for very little cost. And, the appeal of tennis goes across all demographic and socioeconomic groups. It is, after all, the sport for a lifetime. It can be learned in childhood — or adulthood, for that matter. It can be played by three generations and, sometimes, even more. Because of this, and because of its wide appeal, the sport aligns with NRPA’s Health and Wellness and Social Equity Pillars.”

I was 10 when I first stepped onto a tennis court in the Bay Area; much like the ones I’m playing on now as an adult in Chico. My mom signed me up for lessons. Probably much like the lessons I see being taught on the public courts here. 

I agree with Miss Sprecher – tennis is a lifetime sport. It is for me and my friends. There aren’t many sports that you can play your whole life. Why would you consider taking that away from people? 

CARD’s own five-year master plan published in 2018 and updated in 2019 says, “Tennis continues to be a popular activity in Chico. However, the growth of pickleball has put stress on the existing tennis courts. In 2015, one tennis court was converted into four pickleball courts, and another tennis court was converted in 2018. The district should explore new construction of courts in another park as not to compete with tennis.”

I’m going to read that last sentence again to you and remind you that these are your words, your recommendation what you signed off on when you approved the master plan update. It says, “The district should explore new construction of courts in another park as not to compete with tennis.”

But that isn’t what you did. Instead you took two more tennis courts away from us and gave them to pickleball.

A park that once had eight tennis courts now only has four.

Tennis is a viable sport. These courts are used year round. I know. I’m on them. Lessons are being taught March through November. People want to learn the sport.

Your own document said even with six tennis courts pickleball was encroaching on tennis. Now we have four courts; really it’s only three because one is a teaching court.

Chico is growing. So is tennis. Really. The Tennis Industry Association reports that U.S. tennis participation grew by 1 million players in 2022 with more than 23.6 million playing the sport. That was the third consecutive year that the sport has seen an increase. The numbers for 2023 have not been published.

You should be considering adding tennis courts in Chico, not eliminating them. As you go through the resurfacing process this year, seriously consider returning what you took away from us by converting pickleball courts back to tennis.

Thank you again for your time and consideration.

Loss of thousands of trees redefines skiing at Sierra-at-Tahoe

Loss of thousands of trees redefines skiing at Sierra-at-Tahoe

Gone are thousands of trees in the West Bowl area of Sierra. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It’s not the same. It never will be. But that doesn’t mean it’s not good or even better in some ways. And that vibe, it’s still there. An altered landscape hasn’t changed the soul of Sierra-at-Tahoe.

“I’ve learned to appreciate what’s here,” Adam Parris of Oakland said while taking a break from snowboarding at Sierra-at-Tahoe this season.

“You get out there and remember what life is all about,” he said gesturing to the slopes. To him, it’s all about being in the mountains riding. It doesn’t matter that it doesn’t look the same.

Eighty percent of the resort’s 2,000 acres were affected by the Caldor Fire. Every lift needed repairs—some because of heat, some had trees fall on them. Lift towers, haul ropes and terrain features had to be replaced.

The brick shop building with millions of dollars of equipment was reduced to ashes, while the wood structures remained intact.

West Bowl amenities survived the Caldor Fire even though the trees around it did not. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The Caldor Fire started Aug. 14, 2021, near Grizzly Flats, which is about 30 miles from the ski resort. It blew through the resort on Aug. 29, forever changing the ski area.

“I’m amazed with what they have done,” Roger Hubbard of Meyers said while riding the Grandview lift in January. “I think most everybody misses the trees.”

Those trees. Those trees that are no longer there. Approximately 34,000 were removed after the fire. It used to look like a forest and now, well, it doesn’t. At least not at West Bowl. Instead of tree skiing it’s stump skiing.

Some say it’s more like bowl skiing in Colorado or even Europe, which West Bowl never was. Clipper and Dogwood are now wide-open powder runs.

What’s gone are the stashes of powder at West Bowl. It used to be easy to find them even days after a storm. This was all because thousands of trees hid those fluffy piles of white stuff.

“The first time I saw West Bowl it was like a moonscape. There wasn’t any tree skiing there,” Rebekah Richard of Roseville said.

She says the resort still has the same feel, and she’s more than happy it reopened.

For Lilia Prather, also of Roseville, Sierra still feels like home.

“I think it’s a different beauty. You still have trees, but some are sticks sticking up,” she said. “It’s still beautiful. It’s just different terrain.”

Two guys relaxing at the Solstice Plaza came up from San Francisco for the day to ride. They didn’t even know there had been a fire. A man from North Carolina visiting for the first time was unfazed by the terrain, saying he thought he saw signs of a fire but didn’t think much about it.

Ramon Belasqued of Santa Rosa knows what Sierra was like pre-Caldor. “It’s windier now that the trees are gone,” he said. But he’s not complaining. In the same breath he adds it’s easier to move around the slopes because of the lack of trees.

The top of Grandview looks as though there was never a fire. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Still adapting

John Rice, who has been the resort’s general manager since 1993, initially wasn’t sure Sierra would rise from the ashes.

“We are still facing challenges,” Rice admits.

It’s figuring out the wind, where snowdrifts form, even how the lifts are affected by the wind.

“Disasters take their own path. This fire got the shop and left the ugly buildings,” Rice says, still amazed by this reality.

The thought at the time was to put all the valuable equipment—including several new snowcats—snowmobiles, employee tools and other items all in that brick structure with the belief it could survive. It was as packed as it could be.

While Rice would not reveal the actual dollar figure in losses from that one building, he said it was in the multi-millions.

A new structure with new equipment has taken its place.

The other buildings had been protected with Thermo-Gel, a fire retardant that the resort’s insurance company had applied. Everything that was sprayed survived, including the tent-like covering at Solstice.

It took a team to bring the resort back to life.

El Dorado Resource Conservation District and the U.S. Forest Service are to be commended, according to Rice.

Rice went to Washington, D.C., to lobby for support; pointing out the recreation asset that Sierra is.

McP’s Taphouse and MacDuff’s Pub in South Lake Tahoe each had fundraisers for employees, some of whom lost thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment.

Mammoth, Palisades and Boreal ski resorts were singled out by Rice for coming through with people, equipment and other resources.

Now Rice is a resource for others in terms of how to deal with an approaching inferno. Last year he advised resorts in New Mexico and Arizona to put their equipment in the parking lot—on asphalt where fire is more apt to run its course.

A snowboarder goes down the now barren Powderhorn run. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Figuring it out

Employees, community members (on the South Shore and West Slope), season pass holders, day trippers, most anyone with a connection to the resort wanted it to reopen. Rice was buoyed by their enthusiasm.

The rally cry became “it just might be better.”

Not just skiers wanted to come back—so did employees. Last fall six people reached the 30-year mark at Sierra.

While Rice recognizes he is at the tail end of his career, he also knows he was the right person to be at the helm for the recovery. He also admits he and others have gone through all the stages of grief, adding they went from being victims to being victors.

Then everyone involved in Sierra’s rebirth embraced every “re” word—repurpose, reimagine, re-create, reassemble, recalculate. Eventually, they could rejoice.

“You can change the landscape, but you still have the vibe,” Rice said while sitting inside the Solstice Eatery.

He refused to let those flames that reportedly reached 3,000 degrees when they ripped through West Bowl have the final say.

Sierra-at-Tahoe is surrounded by evidence of the 2021 Caldor Fire. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Sierra opened for two days in March 2022 to recognize the resort’s 75th anniversary. Not all the terrain was open last year; even on days when Mother Nature cooperated.

Resilient is one of many words to describe Sierra and the people who brought it back to life. Last fall a swarm of people descended on Sierra to plant 5,000 trees. This will become an annual event at least for a few years; after all not every seedling survives.

While the 200-foot pines will never grace these slopes in any of our lifetimes, life will eventually sprout from the soil.

The fire went from West Bowl south to the lower east side, where areas such as lower Jack’s Bowl and Preacher’s Passion were charred.

Still, there are plenty of places where it’s easy to forget there was a fire. Near the top of Grandview it’s like nothing happened; tall conifers dot the landscape, with snow filling the boughs. Other parts of the resort are like this as well.

Everyone knows the resort is different. No one is apologizing for it. Instead they are actually promoting Sierra as being a different resort.

“It’s not just a business, it’s a treasure,” Rice said of Sierra.

Note: A version of this story first appeared in the Tahoe Mountain News.

Ladybugs form aggregation at Paradise Lake

Ladybugs form aggregation at Paradise Lake

Ladybugs huddle on a branch near Paradise Lake. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

While ladybugs are usually solitary critters, that is not true during the winter months.

“Scientists believe ladybugs aggregate to regulate their internal body temperatures, share mates, enhance their defense, and share resources. Inside these aggregations, movement is disorderly rather than hierarchical, like a beehive or ant hill would be,” according to Treehugger.

Three of us on the last Saturday of February went to Paradise Lake to find a ladybug aggregation—which is what a large group of these beetles is called. These aggregations, which usually form November through February, are like a cluster of ladybugs hibernating.

Each winter ladybugs form an aggregation. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Ladybugs are living off stored fat that has built up after feeding on pollen and nectar when it was warm.

The seven-spotted ladybug is the most popular in North America, though 450 species are native to the continent. Throughout the world there are 5,000 ladybug species. California is home to 175 of them.

They are one of the good insects, as they feast on aphids.

While they were moving around on this particular day, they weren’t going far. Some seemed to be the proverbial bump on a log. They were on the ground, on sticks, flora, some on a rock. But it was a small area where most were congregated. Not more than 15 feet along the edge of the trail, and then in the plant closest to the trail. Most, though, were in an area about 6 feet long.

“… when the weather turns colder in autumn, they look for a warm, secluded place to hibernate, such as in rotting logs, under rocks or even inside houses. They like to group together, too, and these hibernating colonies can sometimes contain thousands of ladybirds,” National Geographic Kids says. (Ladybirds is another name for ladybugs; even the males.)

Ladybugs find comfort in this fallen leaf at Paradise Lake. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Hundreds (thousands?) of these insects were clustered in this one single area of Paradise Lake. It certainly seemed like an appealing location to hang out because it was so sunny. With it being more than 1½ miles in from the parking lot, it also wasn’t going to be visited by everyone.

It would have been easy to walk by without noticing these insects. Luckily, Gracie and Anne had been given good intel where to find them. They also shared this is a regular occurrence at Paradise Lake.

Considering ladybugs can’t fly until the temp hits 55 degrees, they likely stayed at this spot into March. They will start mating when the thermometer hits 65 and above.

Gondola linking Palisades Tahoe to Alpine creates mega-resort

Gondola linking Palisades Tahoe to Alpine creates mega-resort

Even on a blustery day one can appreciate the rugged terrain the gondola crosses. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Convenient. Comfortable. Scenic.

That’s how people describe the $65 million Base to Base Gondola at Palisades Tahoe.

Wayne Paulson (1915-1995), who founded what is now known as Palisades Tahoe, envisioned long ago linking his resort with Alpine Meadows. While he didn’t live to see it become a reality, his successors made his dream come true with the opening of the gondola in December 2022.

Parking at the resorts is one reason people are opting for the gondola. Bill Stewart of Carnelian Bay prefers starting on the Alpine side, whereas Rick Barr of Truckee leaves his vehicle at Palisades.

“I’ve never liked driving here,” Barr said after exiting the gondola on the Alpine said. “This has solved that problem.”

Bob McCullough from Napa Valley say he rides the new gondola every other time he comes to the mountain because of the convenience.

Some facts and figures about the Base to Base Gondola:

  • Opened December 2022
  • Seats 8
  • Takes 16 minutes
  • Winter operation only
  • 96 cabins
  • 4 miles long
  • 33 lift towers
  • Can be operated as one continuous lift for two lifts from the respected bases to the top of KT-22.
  • Sightseeing tickets available.

Source: Palisades Tahoe

It’s also possible to ride it as a sightseer, which is what Sue and Roy Vinyard of Discovery Bay were doing in January. Normally they take it with skis in tow.

“I love it because it’s such easy access to Alpine. A lot of times we ski both mountains in the same day,” Sue Vinyard said. “And the scenery is beautiful.”

Her husband commented on how comfortable the cars are.

David Long and Joyce Youngs, who live on the South Shore, came up in December to check out the gondola without any intent of skiing.

“While riding the gondola, I was able to appreciate the steepness of the canyons which drop into Alpine Meadows. We only caught a glimpse of the lake on the ride due to cloudy conditions,” Long said. “Once past the KT-22 chair you can see what looks like an old chairlift which was assumed to be part of a private land holding that was a stumbling block in the gondola’s development. The scenery is not as spectacular as that on the funitel or the tram, but much more panoramic than the others.”

They rode all three apparatuses that day.

The new gondola is steps from the funitel at the base of Palisades. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The towers one sees are on the land owned by Troy Caldwell. About half of the gondola goes through his property, including the mid-stations. Palisades pays him rent to do so. He also owns the top of KT-22.

While the resort is not releasing exact ridership numbers, employees have said more people are taking the gondola this season. It’s also not known what the breakdown of skiers vs. sightseers is.

Gondola cars are not heated, so you definitely want to dress for winter.

Warning signs at the top of KT-22 likely keep many riders in the gondola car. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Even with a Stage 1 wind hold in mid-January, this year-old gondola barely swung. If one closed her eyes, it would be impossible to know the weather was less than ideal outside. It is that smooth.

Wind is one of the complaints, though. If the gondola closes because of wind, skiers would have to take a bus back to their starting base. And wind is a regular occurrence here.

With Alpine and Palisade linked as one resort, it makes this the second largest in the United States with 6,000 skiable acres. Park City in Utah (7,300 acres) took the stop spot when Vail Resorts’ connected Park City and Canyons with a gondola in December 2015.

Note: This story was written for Tahoe Guide.

Diversity lacking throughout the ski industry

Diversity lacking throughout the ski industry

Most of the skiers at Heavenly Mountain Resort are white. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Diversity and skiing are two words that do not go well together. That’s because the industry is still dominated by white people.

Sierra-at-Tahoe and California are doing much better attracting people of color than the country as a whole. Sierra last ski season reported a 30 percent diversity rate, while the state came in at 29 percent—the highest percentage of any state. Across the U.S., whites dominated skier visits at 88.1 percent.

“Nationally, numbers-wise we don’t see a lot of change over the last decade,” Adrienne Saia Isaac with the National Ski Areas Association said. “With the most racially-diverse generation in our nation coming of age, it is critical that young people feel welcome playing and working in our mountain spaces. The Pacific Southwest sees slightly more racial diversity than other regions of the country, specifically from visits by people identifying as Asian/Pacific Islander.”

Sierra is seeing an influx of Asians as well, sometimes with families coming who enroll their kids in school, with the adults hanging out in the plaza area.

“We don’t do targeted marking by race or ethnicity. We do it by location with a lot of major marketing efforts,” explained Shelby Dunlap, spokesperson for Sierra. “A lot of marketing efforts are in the South Bay. That typically has a high Asian population.”

Sierra also focuses on the greater Sacramento area, with its diverse population being a key factor, as well as proximity to the resort.

While Vail Resorts, which owns Heavenly, Kirkwood, and Northstar, would not reveal skier demographics, it acknowledges there is a problem.

“Vail Resorts and the broader ski industry have incredibly low representation from people of color. We believe that to address this, we must make changes internally before we can lead externally with authenticity and value,” Cole Zimmerman, spokesman for Vail’s Tahoe resorts, said. “We’ve established a roadmap for a multi-year journey to address the lack of diversity on the slopes. We are focused on driving inclusion in three ways: 1) fostering a welcoming culture, 2) diversifying our talent, and 3) broadening access to our sport.”

Sierra and the local Vail resorts believe a huge step to diversifying the slopes is to have employees of color. It’s been proven over and over that until people see people who look like them—be it gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or some other distinguishing factor—people see barriers and not opportunities.

That is why hiring is a component local resorts are paying more attention to.

“When you come to Sierra, even from the staff perspective, there is diversity across different departments,” Dunlap said. The head of snowboarding is African American, as is the woman running the pub.

Dunlap didn’t provide the racial or ethnic breakdown of all employees.

Zimmerman said, “In 2021, we started a career program introducing Colorado youth from SOS Outreach to career opportunities in our retail stores and at resort properties, with the objective of introducing youth to careers in the outdoor industry. That pilot program has expanded from Colorado to Park City and the Tahoe region this year and is informing the way we address building diverse talent and career pipelines for youth in our access programs.”

While the goal to have a diverse payroll is applauded, it might not be easy.

“I think we do face a unique challenge in trying to be more diverse in the workforce. We are limited by the community’s where we exist,” Mike Reitzell, president of Ski California, said. “Where do the employees come from? We may need to wait for communities to catch up.”

Ethnicity breakdown of skiers/snowboarders at U.S. resorts, with some people reporting more than one category

                                                                            2021-22 season                            2022-23 season

White                                                                   88.7 percent                                      88.1 percent

Asian/Pacific Islander                                   5.7                                                           6.5

Hispanic/Latino/a                                           5.5                                                           5.6

Black/African American                              1.5                                                           1.5

Native American/Alaska Native             0.6                                                           0.8

Another race                                                      1.6                                                          1.5

Source: National Ski Areas Association

Eliminating barriers

Those in the industry acknowledge the sport is not cheap, which is a huge obstacle for newbies of any color.

Beyond the price of a lift ticket, there is the cost of clothing, gear, and having a vehicle that is capable of handling winter conditions to even reach the slopes.

Ski California, which has 35 member resorts in California and Nevada, recently hired a consultant to focus on diversity, equity and inclusion issues.

Things like having goggles available that fit different faces, helmets for various hair types, clothes for all sizes—those are barriers not always thought of at first glance.

The study also found there is a perceived ski culture that is neither welcoming nor inclusive.

“As an industry we are trying to break down that perception so they can see skiing and riding for what it is,” Reitzell said. What it is, he said, is fun and inclusive once people make it to the mountains.

“Part of what we do know is there is a large part of the population that is diverse that has not experienced snow,” Reitzell said.

His organization’s goal is to the have the ski slopes be more representative of California’s diverse population.

It doesn’t matter the race or ethnicity, getting kids interested is critical. Sierra and Vail Resorts both have for years focused on ski school.

“We have the largest youth outreach program of all the mountain resort operators, and have invested more than $16 million in youth, adaptive, and continued access programs across our resorts to inspire the next generation of skiers and riders,” Zimmerman said of Vail Resorts.

But it’s more than that. Resorts also know people want access to the snow, and may never ride. They might forever be content on the tubing hill, sledding, snowshoeing or having fun in the white stuff in some other manner.

Having those entry points to snow, though, might be the first step to getting converts to skiing and snowboarding.

Trend setters

When Tere Tibbetts and Gary Bell started skiing they didn’t think about breaking barriers, stereotypes or being part of any sort of movement. They were participating in a sport that was fun. That was the only statement they were making.

The 80-year-old Tibbetts, who was born in Cuba, first skied at Heavenly in 1970. In 1971, she was hired as a ski patroller.

Tere Tibbetts at Heavenly Mountain Resort in the 1980s (Image: Tere Tibbetts)

“I was the diverse person on the ski slopes in those days and I think in all of Tahoe,” she said with a laugh. “I used to joke I was the only member of the Cuban ski team.”

While she went on to teach in Lake Tahoe Unified School District and at Lake Tahoe Community College, Tibbetts continued to ski until three years ago when her eyesight made her hang up her gear.

She said when she was teaching full time hardly anyone in the Hispanic community was skiing or snowboarding.

“The only barrier I see now is price. It is an elite sport for sure,” Tibbetts said.

The 67-year-old Bell has been skiing since he was 3.

The only discrimination he felt on the slopes has been as a telemark skier, not because he is African and Native American.

“Admittedly, I don’t remember way back as a young child when where was probably more discrimination,” Bell said. “I have pictures of my parents and their friends at Alpine and Homewood. I bet they had a tougher time because there was more discrimination at that time in the ’60s.”

He doesn’t believe it’s the responsibility of the resorts to have initiatives to attract people of color, nor does he believe they are even trying to change the demographics.

While he said it’s great to get new people to ski and snowboard, he questions whether “we really need more people standing in line at any given time up there.”

Bell said, “It is expensive sport. There are lot of people who are just not going to try to become part of it. If they want to diversify and invite more people into the sport, they need to make it more affordable.”

Other ways Tahoe is embracing diversity:

The California Tahoe Conservancy board in December 2023 voted to spend $409,000 on diversity projects in the Lake Tahoe Basin:

• $150,000 to Environmental Traveling Companions for an outdoor adventure and education course for under-resourced youth that will include backpacking at Lake Tahoe, and a program to teach safe paddling skills to people with disabilities at Emerald Bay.

• $84,000 to the Lake Tahoe Waterman Foundation to provide transformative paddling experiences for under-resourced youth, people confronting physical disabilities, and those facing mental health challenges.

• $60,000 to the Tahoe Cross Country Ski Education Association for a year-round program to provide Latina girls with instruction and equipment for cross-country skiing, mountain biking, and other outdoor activities.

• $115,000 to the Tahoe Rim Trail Association to upgrade trailhead kiosks along the California side of the TRT. Kiosks will include improved trail and accessibility information and maps, and an acknowledgment of Tahoe as the homeland of the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California. All will be in English and Spanish.

Source: CTC

Note: A version of this story first appeared in the Tahoe Mountain News.

Pin It on Pinterest