5 rad new ways to experience Lake Tahoe this summer – San Francisco Chronicle


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For more stories like this, check out The Chronicle’s weekly Travel newsletter! Sign up here.This time of year, there’s no shortage of things to do at Lake Tahoe. You can hike a 9,700-foot-high peak in the morning and be cruising on a kayak or napping on the beach by mid-afternoon.
There are hundreds of miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, gorgeous sand beaches, boat and Jet Ski rentals, fishing charters and more. The ski industry, feeling the heat of less dependable winters, is investing heavily in warm-weather infrastructure to bring tourists to the resorts year-round.

There are tram rides for sightseers and a “mountain coaster” for families. There’s even an “underwater trail” for scuba divers that traces a path through scuttled vessels in Emerald Bay.

And still, more awesome and unique activities pop up every year: electric hydrofoiling, via ferrata climbing and wakesurfing, to name a few. As you plan your summer trip to Tahoe, make sure to check out these new activities to see the lake and the basin in ways you never have before.

Climb the via ferrata at Squaw Valley

At the back of Olympic Valley, rising 800 feet up a chunky granite rock face at Squaw Valley, is a radical new way to experience a mountain.

It’s called a via ferrata — Italian for “iron path” — and refers to a protected climbing route built out with cables, ladder rungs and steel steps all bolted to the rock face. The system allows off-the-couch visitors to ascend the near-vertical Tram Face, a slab that was formerly off-limits to everyone, including climbers.

It’s designed for all ages, and on a recent outing, both a 7-year-old boy and a woman in her sixties made the summit without issue. Every group is guided, and climbers are connected to cables the whole time by waist harnesses. Tours last between two hours and four hours, depending on the route and speed of the climbing party.

It’s a blast. Not only does it give people hands-on access to an incredible piece of terrain, there are stunning views of Olympic Valley around every corner.

Via ferratas are strung across the European Alps, where high-elevation hiking is more commonplace. But they are just starting to appear on American mountains. There are only a handful in the United States, and this is the only one in Lake Tahoe. The route was commissioned three years ago by local mountain guide company Alpenglow Expeditions, which has an office right there at Squaw’s ski village.

Private tours start at $450 for four climbers. More information: Alpenglow Expeditions, 877-901-4649, www.tahoevia.com.

A wakesurfer carves behind the fully electric towboat Nautique on Lake Tahoe’s West Shore.Courtesy Homewood High & Dry Marina
Wakesurf in wonderful silence

Wakesurfing slid onto the Lake Tahoe scene about four years ago and has quickly become the watersport of choice. Cast your gaze across the lake each morning and you’ll spot towboats lapping the West Shore bays, getting in sessions before the afternoon winds pick up.

The sport is so popular worldwide that boat manufacturers are cranking out crafts specifically designed for the activity, some of which cost upward of $200,000.

Wakesurfing is an outgrowth of the better-known wakeboarding, in which a rider’s feet are strapped to the board and the rider is pulled along by a tow rope. But it’s way more laid back. There are no bindings or foot straps, and the tow rope is only used temporarily to get a rider up to speed. Once a wakesurfer is in the pocket of the wake, they’re cruising — propelled by the thrust of a perfect, forever-peeling wave.

If there’s one drawback to wakesurfing, it’s the boat motors. They’re big, they’re loud, they stink, and they pump out carbon emissions. Gunning the engine for quick accelerations in rapid succession — the very nature of wakesurfing — means you’re being about as un-eco-friendly as possible.

But a new electric towboat nods toward a future that is both cleaner and more fun.

This summer, Homewood High & Dry Marina is hosting the world’s first fully electric wakesurfing vessel, the Super Air Nautique GS22E, at its West Shore marina. The resort also installed the lake’s first-ever electric boat charging station — five hours of charging gets you three hours of battery life.

The Nautique is available to rent, but for a steep $800 per hour.

The best part of the experience is the silence. Without a roaring gas motor, boaters can talk among themselves during the ride and even holler instructions — or psych-outs — to the surfer behind the boat.

More information: Homewood High & Dry Marina, 530-525-5966, www.homewoodmarina.net/electric-boat-lake-tahoe.

Instructor Matt Cook, right, along with student Connor Bugbee during an efoil class at Lake Tahoe’s Kings Beach.Michael Macor/Special to the Chronicle
Cruise the lakeshore on a hydrofoil

Speaking of silent boating technology, cruising the lake is arguably most enjoyable on an electric hydrofoil.

This smooth, innovative personal watercraft is essentially a surfboard with a battery-powered propeller. Bolted to the bottom is a 3-foot-long metal wing that lifts the board and rider out of the water once it hits a certain speed and the rider balances correctly.

If it sounds tricky to master, that’s because it is.

During a 90-minute lesson in Hurricane Bay, I fell dozens of times. But I was able to get “on foil,” meaning the wing lifted me into the air, on several attempts.

Once you’re up, the beauty of the activity reveals itself. You’re by yourself, in the middle of the water, flying on a surfboard. It’s quiet. You look up and notice the trees and mountains ringing this giant blue lake and feel a sense of calm and ease.

Then you lose focus, wipe out and start all over again.

These boards, which retail for $12,000, started emerging on Tahoe last summer and were an immediate hit. Case in point: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been seen riding his up and down the West Shore.

Two local companies offer 90-minute lessons on the lake: Cooke Efoiling ($295), www.cookefoiling.com ; Tahoe eFoils ($275), www.tahoefoils.com .

A glass-bottom kayaker on Lake Tahoe’s East Shore.Courtesy Ludovic Fekete / Clearly Tahoe
Glass-bottom kayak tour

If you’re looking for a more leisurely day on the lake, you can rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard from kiosks stationed at most popular beaches and bays.

Kayaks are great for families, in that they’re relatively simple to pilot and don’t require a wetsuit. You can pack lunch and bring your phone and valuables without having to worry about staying dry.

One way to spice up the experience is with a glass-bottom kayak. Tahoe is famous for its water clarity, and what better way to get the full picture without having to commit to the cold water?

Rent one from Clearly Tahoe at the Tahoe Keys marina in South Lake Tahoe and rents kiosks in Incline Village and Zephyr Cove.

You don’t even need to plan your own trip; Clearly Tahoe offers guided itineraries that change based on the weather and water conditions. They’ll provide the cooler, snacks, dry bags, sunscreen and life jackets.

Puttering around Tahoe’s bays is nice enough during the day, but Clearly Tahoe also offers special nighttime tours of the South Lake shoreline. The transparent boats are lit up by colorful LED lights and paddlers get views of the silhouetted Nevada mountains to the east and the stars above.

Trips from about $100 per adult. More information: Clearly Tahoe, 530-554-4664, www.clearlytahoe.com.

Take an e-bike onto the trail

Electric mountain biking is a touchy subject across the West and the Truckee-North Tahoe region is no exception. The reasons include debate about just how battery-powered bikes impact forest ecology as well as the wilderness experience for other trail users.

Nevertheless, 35 miles of trails were opened to e-bikes in Tahoe National Forest earlier this year. E-bikes are allowed on four trails: Sawtooth, Big Chief, Emigrant and Jackass Ridge.

If you take your e-bike on another trail, however, expect an unfriendly reception from local riders.

Another, more laid-back option is to cruise the paved, 5-mile Truckee River Bike Trail between Olympic Valley and Tahoe City. The mostly flat route hugs the Truckee River along Highway 89, giving riders beautiful views of the river — and the million rafters floating it.

Rentals: Bike Truckee, 530-386-5700, www.truckeebikerentals.com ; Dirt Gypsy Adventures, 844-464-9779, www.dirtgypsyadventures.com ; Cycle Paths Bike Shop, 530-582-1890, www.cyclepaths.com .

Gregory Thomas is the Chronicle's editor of lifestyle & outdoors. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @GregRThomas

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