Clair Tappaan Lodge converts dorm to gallery
The Clair Tappaan Lodge is reopening after 15 months closed, with more views and fewer beds
Although many hotels struggled to determine their role during California’s stay-at-home order, North Lake Tahoe’s Clair Tappaan Lodge remained closed entirely for the last 15 months.
The lodge is making its way back to life before the pandemic, but General Manager Alice Harten and a small team of employees have replaced a few beds with some art.
Harten said she manages the Clair Tappaan and Hutchinson lodges, as well as the four affiliated backcountry huts owned by the Forest Service — all of which remained closed over the last year per state recommendation.
Now, the general manager hopes to reduce the lodge’s capacity overall, and introduce some local art.
“We’re still gonna take care of people, just not quite have the maximum capacity we used to,” Harten said.
Harten said the lodge currently is open to educational groups, which are received one at a time with no cross-contamination, as opposed to individuals or walk-ins.
“We hope to open again to individual guests by the next ski season,” said lodge assistant Kyle Johnson.
Harten said some of the art she and Johnson have collected over the last few months has come from former lodge residents.
“We had been gathering some art from very local and very non-local artists to open up with,” Harten said.
Harten said long-term, she and Johnson hope to have a new exhibit available for visitors to view and purchase once every few months.
Harten and Johnson hope to be part of the Trails and Vistas experience, an interactive hike that highlights nature and art, that takes place in North Lake Tahoe every September.
Harten said she and Johnson have found pieces and donated them to the Sierra Club themselves, and have had artists donate directly to the lodge.
“Some of it is donated, and some of it we donated it to the club by donating it ourselves,” Harten said.
Harten said the lodge’s walls are currently decorated with art from a woman who got married on the premises.
Harten and Johnson have made connections online with artists.
“We just talked to people starting off online and then getting in touch with them,” Harten said. “They asked — what are you looking for?”
Harten said her favorite piece of what’s available is one in a “whimsical style” depicting a family of different kinds of wild animals seated around a dining room table.
Harten said the lodge, at 19940 Donner Pass Road, has served skiers, snowboarders and general outdoor enthusiasts since its construction by Sierra Club volunteers in 1934.
“A lot of people in Truckee don’t even know it’s here. They don’t need to, but it fits in with the Sierra Club mission,” Harten said. “They care about outdoor education, so they want us to conserve and take care of the planet.”
Harten said when the lodges and cabins were first constructed, they were surrounded by about 700 acres of access to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails.
“That was how it all started,” Harten said. “At the beginning of skiing in the ’30s, then there was a Sierra Ski Club that built Hutchinson and they abandoned it.”
Harten, who began contracting with Basecamp Hospitality to work for the Sierra Club in March 2019, said the nonprofit’s lodging endeavor is modest and pragmatic.
“We operate as a nonprofit, so we just have bunks in the room,” Harten said.
Harten, who worked in Yosemite’s hospitality industry for 20 years, described the lodge’s available boarding options as “alternative.”
“We were built as a ski hostel and it was added onto,” Harten said. “We had the dorms where people could get a bed where they might not know the people in their bunk.”
Harten since the lodge shut down on March 23, 2020. Her team has since re-purposed the 23-person women’s dorm.
Although the lodge is making changes, there are still many aspects of one’s stay that might feel “old school.”
“Let’s say you’re staying one night,” Harten explained. “You’ll have lunch to take with you and breakfast. It’s the old style when you had lodging. It came with meals.”
Harten said the hostel charges $79 for an adult, non-Sierra Club member, but remains closed to leisure stays for now.
“If you’re a Sierra Club member, you and everyone in your party is $5 less,” Harten said.
Harten herself said although the last year has been hard, she is looking forward to reopening gradually, and re-purposing areas to safely welcome Tahoe’s rugged guests and eager learners.
Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with the Sierra Sun and The Union, a sister publication of the Sun
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As COVID restrictions continue to rollback nationwide, tourism has started up again and is in full swing around Lake Tahoe.