Tahoe has a worldwide reputation as a destination that tourists will travel the globe to see. But now it’s gaining another reputation — notoriety as a hub of adventure travel, the home of cutting-edge companies that take travelers to the ends of the earth.

Here are short profiles of five adventure travel companies that are giving Tahoe and Truckee a high profile in the adventure travel industry:

Bela and Mimi Vadasz founded Alpine Skills International [ASI] in 1979 in the Bay Area and moved the respected guiding company to Donner Summit in 1983. Today ASI is recognized as a pioneer in U.S. alpine guide instruction and certification, as well as one of the most experienced outfits running trips across the globe, including adventures to the Himalaya, the Alps, and Patagonia.


But when the couple moved to Donner Summit, “we were pretty much the only game in town,” said Bela.

The Vadaszes not only set the standard for Sierra Nevada ski, mountain, and rock climbing guiding, they also helped create guiding guidelines for the nation. Both are founding members of the American Mountain Guide Association and are considered pioneers in American mountain guiding. Mimi has summited Mount Everest and climbed six of the Seven Summits (the highest peaks on each of the seven continents). And the couple has impressive alpine achievements like a Nordic descent of Mt. Denali and an early ascent of the Puterey Ridge on Mont Blanc, the longest alpine route in the Alps.

“We were fortunate that when the industry was in its infancy we were there and we had the right genetics for it,” said Bela.

Bela said he is proud of his part in developing professional guiding standards for American guides.

“It is more than being a great climber; it is how you relate to people and understand their thresholds of talent and comfort levels,” said Bela. “Some of that is intuitive and some is art and learned skill.”

The company continues to run trips to Mt. Kilimanjaro, South America, and the Himalaya with a talented team of guides who are nationally and internationally certified professionals.

Bio Bio Expeditions was founded in 1993 and moved to Truckee in 1996. Owners Marc Goddard and Laurence Alvarez-Roos, world champion rafters and deeply experienced river guides, have led trips ranging from Bhutan’s world-class Himalayan-fed whitewater to Peru’s rugged Cotahuasi River at the bottom of the deepest canyon on earth.

Today, the company runs signature trips from its luxurious riverside camp on the banks of the Futaleufu River in Chile. While the company’s origins are in world-class whitewater, Bio Bio Expeditions also runs an array of non-rafting trips around the world.

Goddard said it is not too surprising to find so many adventure travel companies based in Tahoe, since adventure travel company employees are “lifestyle” people and Tahoe is among the most desirable places to live.

And the location of his business, in a hotbed of outdoor recreation, helps when he is searching for a new guide or employee, said Goddard.

“There is so much talent here,” said Goddard. “We might need a guide next year and there are people I can ask in town.”

Incline Village-based Myths and Mountains, founded by humanitarian and traveler Dr. Toni Neubauer, has pioneered a culturally immersive style of travel that sets it apart from many of its competitors.

“When we started 25 years ago people were doing destinations or activities, very few people were focusing on concepts,” said Neubauer.

A Myths and Mountains trip might explore the traditional medicine of a culture or examine the natural history of a country in great detail, said Neubauer. The company accomplishes this by leading the trips themselves or working with the best tour operators across the globe.

“We try to create experiences that no one else is doing,” said Neubauer. “We really go beyond the guidebook.”

True to her philosophy of immersive cultural experiences, Neubauer founded READ Global in 1991 to build libraries across Nepal. The organization has since expanded to India and Bhutan, was awarded the Bill and Melinda Gates Access to Learning Award in 2006, and received $4.7 million in funding from the foundation in 2011.

Neubauer said that the READ Global libraries are “a catalyst for rural development.”

“A school is for kids, a hospital is for sick people, but a library is for everybody,” said Neubauer. “In Nepal, it really changed the culture.”

Travel guide Todd Smith founded Tahoe City-based AdventureSmith Explorations 10 years ago, and the small ship specialist company has grown rapidly ever since.

“It would not have happened if I had not lived in Tahoe and enjoyed the Tahoe lifestyle,” said Smith, who first moved to Tahoe in 1992.

Smith said he initially wondered how operating a business in Tahoe would work.

“That was a question mark and a concern that I had: Would I be able to find people with experience in my industry?” he said. “I have been very pleasantly surprised. It is a magnet for people who live that lifestyle.”
Smith books trips on ships that typically hold between 20 and 80 passengers, and that “employ local people, and don’t discharge their waste or overwhelm local communities,” he said, giving travelers a more intimate travel experience while eliminating the environmental drawbacks of large cruise ships.

“We work with smaller, mom-and-pop destinations, things that are off the radar of travelers or travel agents,” said Smith.

The small ship travel industry is growing, and AdventureSmith is growing along with it, at a pace of about 20 percent per year, said Smith.

As AdventureSmith has grown, Smith has also seen Tahoe grow into a true hub of adventure travel, he said.

“We have as many adventure travel companies as you might find in San Francisco or Seattle, but in an area that is much, much smaller,” said Smith. “I think it is unique to have this group of international adventure travel companies in an area that is so geared toward tourism locally.”

IceAxe Expeditions was founded on Doug Stoup’s experience as one of the world’s foremost polar guides. And whether it is Greenland, Svalbard, Norway, or Antarctica, the adventure travel company specializes in taking people to the top and bottom of the world.

Stoup said he chose to put down roots in the Truckee area after falling in love with the Eastern Sierra during trips from his home in Los Angeles. But being based in Truckee also has its benefits for his business. He often works with local ski and snowboard athletes, and local cinematographers and adventurers.

“I do pull a lot of my clients from Squaw, Truckee, and the Tahoe Basin,” said Stoup.

Apart from trips to the Arctic islands, the North Pole, and Antarctica, Stoup continues to dream up wild adventures across the globe — ski trips to Morocco, stand up paddleboarding the Amazon from source to sea, and an Arctic marathon.

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  • David Bunker

    David Bunker almost dropped out of journalism school to hunt non-native rats on an uninhabited Pacific island. Instead, he graduated college and launched into a career of dump truck driving and ditch digging before taking up writing as a profession. He’s written for newspapers and magazines across the West and won numerous first place awards in the California and Nevada press associations.

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