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4wd or Chains
The Tahoe area can receive heavy snow anytime from early fall to late spring. Chains or 4WD vehicles are often required on California roads during snowstorms; during such storms, checkpoints will be setup on mountain passes. If you do not have chains or 4WD and you come to a chain control checkpoint, you will be required to turn around or purchase chains.
The roads in mind are HW 80 between Reno and Sacramento, HW 431between Reno and North Lake Tahoe, 267 between Truckee and Kings Beach, 89 South of Tahoe City to South Lake Tahoe, and HW 50, HW 207 over Kingsbury Grade. Generally, during snow storms, these and other roads in the Tahoe area are subject to chain and/or 4WD requirements or closures.
In severe storms, the road between Tahoe City and South Lake Tahoe on Highway 89 is often closed at Emerald Bay--sometimes for days or even weeks afterwards. Other mountain roads will have "holds" placed on them, stopping traffic in one or both directions. Most importantly, Friday night and Sunday afternoon traffic can be a nightmare. No matter what, give yourself extra travel time, be patient, and flexible with your plans.
You're at Altitude
South Lake Tahoe is at 6200 feet above sea level and the top of Heavenly is 10K feet. So, remember to drink extra water and remember that alcohol hits you faster at altitude. There is no major danger unless you have a health condition where you shouldn't go to altitude, but the change can cause headaches, fatigue and grumpiness, on top of a hangover and soreness from skiing, and you will be ready for a killer massage!
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Be prepared for cold weather and long drives
It's not uncommon for the drive to and from Lake Tahoe to take a LONG time in the Winter, depending on the snowfall. When driving there, be sure to bring food, drinks and blankets for the drive, in case you have to wait out road closures in a blizzard.
On New Year's Even, instead of the usual 3-1/2 hour drive that we usually have from our home to South Lake Tahoe, our drive took 9 hours 20 minutes!! Highway 50 was closed until 1:20pm for avalance control, which had thousands of people stuck in line, waiting for the roads to clear. Even when Highway 50 reopened, it took 6-1/2 hours for us to get up and over Echo Summit and to get to our hotel, simply because of the number of people wanting to get through.
Park Your Car Off the Road in Wintertime
When you park your car during the winter, make sure you are in a designated parking area, or at least completely off the road. The snow removal crews do an excellent job of keeping the roads cleared from excess snow, but don't make their job more difficult by leaving your car in the way. You might get a ticket, get towed, or if they really get ticked off you might find some dents/scratches/who knows on that vehicle of yours!
Keep chains for cars because...
Keep chains for cars because winter storms can come with unexpected swiftness. An ice scrapper is essential for winter. Club Tahoe provides one with each rental. A 4-wheel drive vehicle is the best insurance for inclement weather. I absolutely hate to get cold and wet laying in slush or freezing snow to put on chains.
Keep blankets, warm clothes and some snacks in the car in preparation for long delays due to weather.
Don't Get Fried by the Sun!
Be aware at this elevation you can quickly get sunburned, summer or winter. Due to the high number of sunny days, the thin air, and the double exposure one can get from the water or the snow, don't forget the sunscreen! You'll see lots of people beet-red after a day of skiing or a day at the beach -- those people won't forget again!
Pay Attention to Mountain Weather
The weather and temperature are quick to change up here, summertime or any season. If you go out hiking/mountain biking/whatever, even for the afternoon, be prepared. Pay attention to the weather forecast, and take some basic supplies with you, including water and a jacket. Telling someone where you're going is a good idea, and used to be (and may still be) required if you're going into the back country. A little 'insurance' can make all the difference between a fun outing or a disaster.
Spring is a great time to go to Tahoe, however we encountered lots on flooding.
This trail was flooded on Rainbow trail.
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