- Moderate hilly touring terrain
- 4 miles in 1 day (stats are for first tour described)
- Cumulative gain, loss: +600', -1100'
- Avg. Relief: 400'/mile
- Topos: Truckee (15');
Martis Peak (7.5')
The Northstar resort lies to the west of Brockway Summit, the top of Mt. Pluto being
its highest point. It isn't the most challenging place to ski, but some parts of it,
particularly off-piste areas of the "Backside" (west of Mt. Pluto), can be wonderful
during and just after major storms.
In addition to this major downhill resort, Northstar's runs an unimpressive
cross-country resort, mostly west of the downhill area, centered around the 7100'
saddle, Sawmill Flat. Southwards, between Mt. Watson and Tahoe City, is another
XC resort, recently renamed "Tahoe XC", I believe. And, in most of what's left,
there is a huge amount of snowmobile activity, with snowmobile routes crisscrossing
all over the place.
Still, you can get a good tour going in this area, particularly if you do it on a
weekday when the snowmobile traffic is reduced. In March '01, we parked at the Martis
Peak trailhead just north of Brockway Summit, crossed the highway, and ascended
southwest to the top of the modest 7700' hill. We took off skins and descended
southwest, and then west, crossing some trails at the XC resort. Then we contoured
along 7100' to 7200' until we crossed into the Northstar downhill resort, and
descended resort slopes to the "village" area at the bottom.
Bob emerges from the backcountry
Another idea, avoiding Northstar, would be to descend from the above-mentioned
7700' hill more to the southwest, and follow snowmobile trails westward between
Mt. Pluto and Mt. Watson. (You could also reach the Pluto-Watson saddle by skiing
out-of-bounds southwards from near the top of Northstar's "Challenger" run,
which descends the "backside" from Mt. Pluto, the top of Northstar; note that
Northstar forbids out-of-bounds skiing, so this option is "not recommended".)
From that saddle between Mts. Pluto and Watson, you can descend northwest to 7550',
where the snowmobile trail swings south (going north right here would quickly pop
you back into Northstar). At around 7100', the main snowmobile highway turns back
to the northwest, and you can continue in that direction and then north, all the
way to Truckee. The best time to do this is during the annual Tahoe-to-Truckee
"Great Ski Race", 30K, the first Sunday in March. This race is very
non-racer friendly, and there's a good party at the end. The race route starts at
Tahoe XC, northeast of Tahoe City, does a steady ascent around Mt. Watson's west
side to the Pluto-Watson saddle, sweeps down around to the west side of Sawtooth
Ridge, and cruises north to Truckee.
Connecting with the next Tahoe Loop tours.
There are two options that I've tried:
Free day parking is available at the Martis Peak trailhead north of Brockway Summit,
at Northstar resort, near Tahoe XC along certain residential roads, at the Silver
Peak trailhead on highway 89 (2.3 miles north of the Squaw Valley intersection),
at various places around Truckee, and along the road at old Donner Pass. Most of
this area is relatively low elevation, and best skied by late winter.
- To Truckee and westward near Schallenberger Ridge: Take the
Tahoe-to-Truckee race route (see above) from Pluto-Watson saddle to Truckee,
and then get across the town of Truckee somehow to the Donner Lake State Park trailhead,
which is located back behind the gas stations just south of the farthest west
Truckee exit off of I-80 (there is a SnoPark site nearby, but you may be able to park
along the state park road where a SnoPark permit is not required). Next,
leave a shuttle car at this trailhead to do a
one-way ski tour from the top of Donner Pass (the old pass near Sugar Bowl,
which is also the trailhead for the Donner-to-Squaw
tour, not Donner Summit). From Donner Pass, climb south and then east over the saddle
between Donner Peak and Mt. Judah, and then descend, angling towards the south,
to the western end of Schallenberger Ridge. Ski generally eastward along the
south side of Schallenberger Ridge (or if you're feeling energetic and want some great
views, follow the crest of the ridge) all the way to the Donner Lake State Park
- Deer Creek to the Pole Creek trailhead: This goes, though I don't particularly
recommend it. Drop off the west side of the Pluto-Watson saddle, following the
main snowmobile route northwest and then south to around 7100'. Leave the main route
there, following the north side of Deer Creek westward to Highway 89. Even though
this is a popular hiking trailhead in the summertime, in winter you will encounter "No
Trespassing" signs as you approach the Truckee River. Worse yet, the closest bridge
to where you come out is very securely gated; I actually forded the river in
my ski boots (immersing myself up to mid-thigh in January; it would be deeper and
much more dangerous later in the season!) There are several other bridges within
1/4 to 1 mile north that aren't so securely gated. I advise scouting this out
before committing to skiing the route. Once crossing the Truckee River
somehow, it is up to one mile north to get to the Pole Creek trailhead parking area.
Your best bet would be to cross to the west side of the road, ski west towards
Silver Peak a short ways, and then proceed north until you meet the
Pole Creek ski trail.
General info and disclaimer about backcountry skiing
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