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Jake’s Peak

Location: West Shore – Lake Tahoe, CA
Duration: 1-2 hours
Elevation Change: 2,357′ – from 6,830′ to 9,187
Recommended Map: Emerald Bay, California

Elevation Profile:

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Map of General Route:

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With some real sweat and skilled skinning, you can wind your way up to one of the most unreal lake view backcountry ski descents. Half the reason why you’re sweating is to beat the crowds to the top. The ski terrain is only moderately steep, but the skin tracks hide in the trees where it gets steeper. Locals prefer to avoid any chance of repeat avalanches that have shown us some real damage in the past. There’s a reason why you’ll see missing strips of trees in places. There are some common starting zones you should steer clear from, but Jake’s gets skied enough for you to figure it out by just showing up a little late. You’ll still get fresh tracks as this peak stretches out for half a mile from the north side to it’s east and south slopes.

For skiing the north and east sides, park near the entrance to Bliss State Park. In 2016 the CA State Parks told us that skiers can park in their small building lots, but I’m not sure I would trust that. They also said they would plow the un-used Bliss state Park Entrance parking lot, and did in 2015/2016,  but didn’t in 2016/2017. There are not enough parking spaces out on hwy 89, as TRPA reduced skier access in 2016 all along hwy 89 right where we always depended on it. CALL THEM! TRPA is equally charged with enhancing recreation, as they are to protect lake clarity. In fact they completey erased our Jake’s Peak parking (the most popoular backcountry ski tour in Lake Tahoe), and only restored some of it only after the public went crazy in 2016.  Please thank the Caltrans drivers who plow the hwy 89 pullout on the east side of hwy 89, just south of the Bliss State Park headquarters. Bring a big shovel; you’ll still need to help work out a clean parking spot after recent snow. CARPOOL and conserve parking along hwy 89 for other skiers! You can probably get 10 cars in the North Jake’s Peak pullout during stormy weather. We need triple that.  The Eldorado Sherriff who has been patrolling this area told me he would NOT ticket skiers who park in this spot. There used to be more pullouts near this spot but TRPA reduced them, and Cal Trans has not been clearing them lately.

You can see the entire lake and the northern half of Desolation Wilderness from the large summit area of Jake’s Peak. This mountain offers beautiful and widely spaced old growth trees on its north and east slopes. Finding your way to the car on the north side can be tricky at times, but you’ll always hit the road if you go downhill. Look for tracks, listen for the road, or head back uphill to find the skin track if you get turned around down low. If you ski the popular wide-open, east facing avy paths, continue all the way to the road and walk back to your car.

When it’s time for springtime corn snow, park a mile further south on Hwy 89,at the Emerald Bay Avalanche Gate Closure Turn-around. Make sure you are well off the road, and not blocking room a plow may need at the turn-around. In times of firm morning snow and deep coverage, try just booting steep and straight uphill above your car to the summit. Most people skin up the snow covered dirt road, past the old cabins, and head up to an obvious saddle and avy gully above Emerald Bay. This area has recently become quite popular. The terrain is very steep up higher, and there are no trees for a reason… be careful over here. You will need good skinning skills and/or ski crampons at the small headwall.

Skiers have received parking tickets at times parking at the above mentioned “avy gate closure” due to the Nov – May rule. I got one on a sunny day, when I wasn’t in anyone’s way. The Caltrans plow crew had just told me I could park there that morning, as they always do. The local Sheriff says he will not ticket anyone in the early springtime, inferring that you don’t have to wait until May 1st if spring-like weather comes early. Anyway, you probably aren’t parking here during the wintertime because the slopes above are less safe compared to the North Side. Or maybe you know your snowpack and want to climb this south gully for one of many hidden steep couloirs on this side of the mountain. You can see them all from the Bayview Trailhead Parking area, drive over there and turn around!

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5 Comments

  1. Mike

    On 3/13/17 I took a quick spin up the south side of Jake’s Peak at Emerald Bay. We were in a great week long corn cycle and the EB chutes were fairly tracked out, but less people ski over on the other side of the ascent track. I was the only car parked at the avy gate turnaround at 8am and it was full with about 15 cars when I returned at 10am. Thanks to Cal Trans and El Dorado Sherrif for allowing us to park here! They do sometimes ticket and tow when there is no plowing to do, which is a bummer. This is an important winter access point to the most beautiful ski terrain within 100 miles in any direction!!!! It’s one of the only places you can park in all of lake Tahoe, which is another sad reality.
    If it weren’t for the few renegade Cal Trans plow drivers helping us backcountry ski, you would be moving on to other states more friendly towards public land access. Our State Parks, USFS, and County officials have done nothing for us as backcountry skiers…after many meetings and over 2 years of “stakeholder meetings”. I even made a well received slide show presentation at their office and then drove the TRPA managers around in my van, showing them the whole deal with our pirate parking issues. They said they can’t help in the end basically, and that they have zero control over other Tahoe Gov’t Agencies. Seriously? Call them too! TRPA is half charged with improving recreation, just like restoring lake clarity. They have reduced half our sad parking pullouts in 2016 with the hwy 89 “improvement” project, and didn’t consult a single local person about the recreation access impacts. They even wiped out the standard Jake’s Peak parking lot, which we had to fight to get back.
    WTF? No one wants backcountry skiers at Lake Tahoe in any government agency? How lazy and lame can you be? Tahoe IS backcountry skiing!!!

  2. Mike

    on 3-5-18 Steph, Jessie and I parked at the avy gate and got into a frustrating discussion with someone named Bill from Cal Trans, who lectured about 15 skiers that we could no longer park here. This has happened in the past. In the end we all went skiing without moving our cars, because there is nowhere else to park to access Desolation Wilderness or Jake’s Peak (the most popular ski tour in Tahoe). He said he was going to post a no-parking sign on the tree at the turnaround, but that luckily hasn’t happened yet. He says the problem is that tourists park blocking the road later in the day, seeing our skier cars as a suggestion to park. What does one thing have to do with the other? Why can’t they just have signs that say “parking allowed from here…..to here”. I asked him what’s the deal when the road gets plowed and the snow melts away to the point where we are all parking on dirt? This happens a day or two after a storm. He said NO DICE, no more parking here. Try parking back half a mile. I told him no one is going to do that. How about opening the gated summer parking lot just past the gate? Bill also talked about a tractor trailer truck that got stock without being able to turn around last winter when emerald bay wasn’t plowed. This also has nothing to do with skiers or anything really. The guy wasn’t going to be able to turn around at all, and just missed some signs. Whatever, leave the truck and call a taxi! You’ll eventually get through.

    Backcountry skiers ARE the economy on the west shore of Tahoe in the winter and spring. You would think land managers would realize this sport is a real thing. Like since before ski areas even got built. We are a real part of Tahoe’s Soul as well as the economy. And their job is to provide access to public land, not remove it all so they don’t have to deal with it. We have lost our parking at Rubicon, Bliss, Jake’s (got it back), Tallac, Pyramid, Ralston, Fallen Leaf….kind of all of it. Half of these access points have locked, unplowed parking areas or huge highway shoulders with no parking signs.

    OK, I will rant no more! just wanted a little to filter into the website. Our organization Tahoe Backcountry Alliance could use some more volunteers. We are working on it, but it really looks like the public has to figure it all out, fund raise, design, and convince the land managers of the Tahoe area of something that is so fundamental to the reason why most of us live here. We want to park the damn car and get out into the woods or onto the lake. Do they expect us all to go pay $150 and fight crowds and moguls at squaw and heavenly? TRPA, USFS, CA State Parks, El Dorado Supervisor Sue Novasel, SLT and TC Chamber of Commerce, El Dorado Sherrif, are some of the main land managers you might try to talk to if you want access to Desloation Wilderness and our public land in general. These organizations are so busy managing campgrounds and general sight seeing tourists, that they kind of don’t care about mountain biking, paddleboarding, or ski touring.

    So anyway, we went skiing on a super warm day and needed to take our second run down the north side. Jessie used to work at our shop at the beginning in the early 90’s, before moving to Santa Cruz. He had no problem pounding out 4500′ without an acclimatization day and some nice turns were had. Then we hit some dreamy easy Alpine Meadows Ski Area groomers the next day which almost felt like a backcountry experience in the morning.

  3. Mike

    These pics are from feb 6 2019. Steph and I skied thigh to waist deep dry snow. I got us both Voile Vector V8 skis that are ridiculously light and wider than we’ve skied before. The first thing I realized is trail breaking is way easier. My skis are 114 at the waist and only weigh 6.5lbs. This makes me so much faster I can’t believe it, so I got 2 more pairs to have in my family and loan out perhaps just to help people go at my new hiking speed. Unreal, you should get a pair. They carve great turns when it’s not deep somehow too. I originally thought I would only use these skis when ski penetration is well over 12″, but have since found I prefer them even when it’s only a few inches deep. Of course when ski pen is 4″ or less, I’m back to wanting 100-104 waist width or so.

  4. Mike

    These pics are from Feb 12, 2019. In the middle of the month called Februburied. 330″ of snow measured on the west shore in just one month! It was super windy on this day but no wind slab avy danger, as the wind was blowing the opposite direction from our ski direction. Pow was surprisingly good considering the cold wind, and lunch tasted that much better because of it at Fireside.

  5. Mike

    These pics are from Feb 17 2019. Not only was Emerald Bay closed virtually all month from over 300″ of snow received just this month, but the end of the road was right at the state park. And it was a one lane sketchy unplowed drive for a few miles getting to this point. It reminded me of the old climbing manufacturer bumper sticker that I forgot who authored, that said “My vacation is your worst nightmare”. I went out solo today and and bumped into plenty of friends.

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