By Kellee Rich

As the cold weather descends on the Sierra Nevada mountains, locals and visitors alike delight in the drastic scenery changes. Fall mornings blanketed with frost and multi-colored leaves sweeping across pavement reminded us that winter is coming.

As a fourth-generation local to the Tahoe/Truckee area, I’ve seen the winter season go through its ups and downs, from the community coming together to help those less fortunate, to record-breaking snowstorms that shut down roads and commerce. Because of this, I’ve compiled a Tahoe Winter Survival Guide for anyone spending time in our sublime landscape this season. My intention is to offer you some practical tools and good practices to ensure you celebrate in style, stay safe, and respect the area. 

Stay Geared Up and Shop Local
Layers are key. So are warm jackets and good boots. Temperatures in the Tahoe Basin can range from 30 to 50 degrees in a single day, becoming warmer during the day and dropping to below freezing conditions in the evenings. Crampons, ice cleats, or snow grips? Not a bad idea if you need some extra support and traction on icy roads and sidewalks. Shop small at local businesses in downtown Truckee, Tahoe City, Kings Beach, and Incline Village. Find great deals at second hand shops like Mountain Kids/Echo Blue in Truckee or NUTS in Tahoe City. Pick up any needed gear and snow tools at employee-owned Ace Hardware. 


Remember, Tahoe Is Wild!
And with that wild comes wildlife. Bears, deer, and coyotes abound all year round. Don’t leave food in your car, and don’t put trash out before pickup day. Many bears in the area no longer hibernate the entire winter or hibernate less due to availability of food. Coyotes might eye your kitties and small dogs as a meal. Don’t leave small children unattended out in nature. Create an awareness of wildlife and hold respect for Mother Nature’s creatures; we share their home, after all.

BE BEAR AWARE: Remember not to put trash out until your pick-up day. Tahoe’s wild creatures will make a mess of your garbage if you don’t abide by this rule of thumb.

Tahoe Dogs Don’t Leash Up

We live in the mountains for many reasons, and one of them is to let our dogs adventure in nature unleashed. Please don’t freak out if you encounter a wild local and their furry friend on the trails, on the dog beach, or on a snowshoe hike. If you stay calm, so will your furry friend. Try saying “hi” instead. 

Pack It Out or Suffer Local Wrath

We live here. This is our home. And we want to keep it pristine, so if you go anywhere at all, pack it in and pack it out. What does that mean? You make the trash, you take the trash. Pure and simple. On the trails, in town, or at any one of the local ski resorts (yes, even in the parking lot) – take your garbage home with you or dispose of it properly, or you may become subject to a local’s wrath. 

It’s Real, It’s Constant, Expect It

Traffic has become a way of life in our small mountain community and each winter it gets worse, exacerbated by the influx of visitors to our region and the ski resorts. Like death and taxes, there is no avoiding the traffic or getting around it. Try planning ahead and planning accordingly, looking at weather and traffic patterns. Avoid traveling during peak times and during winter storm warnings. And just expect it. That way when you get stuck on Highway 89 on a bluebird powder day for a few hours, at least you’re prepared enough to have snacks and your favorite podcast ready.

Know the Conditions and Take it Slow

Let’s face it, driving in the snow can be intimidating and downright dangerous. You have to know the conditions, take it slow, and be aware of other, less experienced drivers. Under 32 degrees Fahrenheit? That’s freezing conditions. Look out for black ice, frozen roads, and give yourself ample travel time. Blizzard conditions? Stay where you are to allow the plow drivers the space to clear the roads. If it’s not an emergency, it’s not worth the risk. Patience is a virtue for those who drive in Tahoe during winter road conditions. Tune into local radio stations 101.5 FM or 1610 AM for up-to-date information. 

PATIENCE REQUIRED: Tahoe’s ski areas and highways can get crowded in winter. Bring a dose of patience when you visit and plan ahead to hit the road at non-peak times to avoid traffic.

Crowds Are Real and the Snow is Epic 

After battling traffic and challenging road conditions, it’s time for a ride/ski day with friends and family at one of 15 local ski resorts. Here is where the real battle begins. Up at 6 a.m. and out the door by 7, only to make it to first chair at Palisades by 10 a.m. And that is if you made your parking reservation for weekends and holidays. The fact of the matter is, if you are going, make a day of it, be sure to pack a lunch (and pack it out). Take the whole family. Someone in your group doesn’t ski or snowboard? No problem. Many resorts have villages with shopping and restaurants, and alternative activities like yoga and sledding. And if you didn’t already know, there is a reason why Tahoe is an international resort destination — the snow is epic!

As a way to help mitigate ski traffic, almost all Tahoe ski resorts are implementing a weekend parking reservation system this year. Be sure to check out their websites to learn how and when to make a reservation for parking.

There Is an Expiration Date
You’ve heard the expression: guests, like fish, start to stink after three days. Family and friends love to come and stay throughout the winter to ski or enjoy the mountains. Maybe you and your family rented a place for two weeks. For your sanity, my personal suggestion is three days max. Here’s the formula: Day one, catch up. Day two is for adventuring. Day three, time for guests to leave or create some space for yourself and take a break. I recommend a lot of outdoor time and/or exercise. Check out some of the great local yoga studios and gyms in the area. Take a walk in nature. Cross-country ski. Breathe in the fresh mountain air. And always collect yourself before more face-time with your guests. 

Now you are ready to enjoy the majestic landscapes and epic adventures that await you in Tahoe. We love this place. We respect this place. We ask you to do the same. We ask you to #keeptahoeblue and #takecaretahoe. 

~ Kellee Rich is a poet/writer, yoga teacher/educator, and event producer based in the Tahoe/Truckee area. You can find her out in nature paddleboarding and snowboarding. She believes in magic and lives by this quote by Mary Oliver, “Tell me, what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”  


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