From 100 months straight to 16 years nonstop, there’s a quest for some to ski every month of every year at Tahoe
Special to the Sierra Sun
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This story is adapted from the summer 2019 edition of Tahoe Magazine, a specialty publication of the Sierra Nevada Media Group. The magazine, which is packed with plenty of features and advertisements about all that the Tahoe-Truckee summer has to offer, is on newsstands now across Lake Tahoe, Truckee and Reno and is available online at www.tahoemagazine.com.
It’s mid-summer at Lake Tahoe, and you’ve decided to hoof it up a mountain for a scenic day hike.
You begin your ascent into the primitive forest, snaking your way through Jeffrey pines, granite outcroppings and tiny patches of late-lying snow. Far away from the summer crowds, you pass two hikers and pause to stare at them in bewilderment.
They are, after all, trudging up a slope of dirt and rock with their skis, boots and poles strapped to their backs.
Perhaps you inquire why on earth they would hike all this way to ski on a lingering patch of snow in summer?
They respond with the same bewilderment: Why on earth would you hike all this way and not ski on a lingering patch of snow?
There’s an ever-growing congregation of die-hard, year-round skiers who have made it their personal mission to ski every single month of the year. It’s not about bragging rights or competition. It’s not about perfect turns or deep snowpack. Rather, it’s about keeping the year-round ski streak alive — simply because you can, and because it’s fun.
The 2018-19 winter season was an epic one, blanketing the Lake Tahoe Basin with over 600 inches of snow and setting the stage for an exceptionally long ski season, both in the backcountry snowfields and at ski resorts across the Sierra.
In particular, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows boasted 315 inches falling in February alone this past season, breaking its own record for the most snowfall in one month, previously set January 2017 at 282 inches.
Most Tahoe-area resorts typically wrap up the ski season at the end of April or May, but this year’s unparalleled winter has Squaw Valley setting its sights on July 7 as a closing date, weather and conditions permitting.
Whether you choose to hike for your turns or hop on a chairlift at Squaw Valley, this is the summer to cross off the ultimate Tahoe bucket list dream: snow skiing/snowboarding and water skiing/wakeboarding all in one day.
Still not convinced you should head for the slopes while everyone else is swimming in Lake Tahoe this summer? Perhaps you can draw inspiration from a few diehard Tahoe-Truckee locals who relish the Sierra as a hotbed of skiing year-round.
Alexis Machovsky & Josh Anderson
Rocking a goggle tan well into September, skiing in a bikini and maintaining sanity through the hot summer months are among the top reasons Olympic Valley resident Alexis Machovsky began her quest to ski year-round.
“There are some reliable patches that exist in the Carson and Sonora passes, and in really dry years, there is the miracle of snowmaking in the fall,” Machovsky said in an interview with Tahoe Magazine, while on a ski trip in Bulgaria this past spring. “I’ve certainly driven to whatever ribbon of hope is available to ski it after work in the dark to maintain my streak.”
Although an injury interrupted Machovsky’s long streak, she’s back on track with nearly 30 months of skiing straight logged to date.
“I started working in New Zealand in the summer months in 2014, and swiftly realized that summer is my least favorite season,” she said. “It snowballed from there.”
Day or night, Machovsky is rarely alone in her pursuit for an endless winter, as she’s often accompanied by her dog and her partner, another avid streak-skier and Olympic Valley dweller, Josh Anderson.
“Alexis and I are a pretty good team, but honestly there’s usually a friend willing to join, whether or not they have a streak,” said Anderson, while skiing in Bulgaria alongside Machovsky.
A skier since age 2, Anderson hit 41 months of consecutive skiing in March 2019, and he’s willing to go the distance to keep his streak alive in the unofficial turns-all-year club.
“The skiing isn’t often terribly rewarding in the summer,” Anderson said. “But when the east side calls for a big dirt walk in the spring, I’m totally game.”
Dodging rocks, defying drought and scrambling up steep scree slopes is just another summer day for Kings Beach-based year-round skier Matt Bansak, who tipped the streak skiing scale at 100 months straight in spring 2019.
“Patch skiing isn’t about the vertical or the snow quality, it’s about the adventure and dedication for doing what you love,” Bansak said. “Seasons happen, but with some motivation, they don’t have to get in the way of what you love to do.”
The photographer and web developer said it wasn’t until adulthood when he realized he didn’t have to put his skis away just because the lifts stopped spinning or the snow stopped falling.
“After I moved out to Tahoe in 2011 and skied every month that summer, the concept of keeping that streak going was appealing to me,” Bansak said. “Some months I have less motivation, but I go anyway, and always get rewarded with an adventure. That’s never a bad thing.”
While Bansak’s friends are breaking out their mountain bikes, paddleboards and climbing gear come May and June, he’s bound to be applying fresh coats of wax to his summer skis and plotting his next patch of snow to conquer.
“If I’m going for my August or September turns and ask if any of my friends want to join — even if they are passionate skiers — they’ll think I’m a bit crazy,” Bansak said. “But hey, if you’re going for a hike, why not strap some skis to your back and make an adventure out of it?”
Brennan Lagasse & Jillian Raymond
For people like Bansak who haven’t missed a month of skiing in years, fording alpine streams, climbing steep pitches and clambering over uncompromising terrain are all part of the fun and adventure of patch skiing.
That may also be true for Brennan Lagasse and Jillian Raymond, but the husband and wife duo – married nearly two decades – are also in it for the bonding time, the family memories — and most of all, the laughs.
“I remember the first time we summitted Mt. Shasta together — the challenge of getting to the top, and of having all these feelings of accomplishment and success, and then the joy of getting to ski down together,” Raymond said. “It’s that kind of adventure and joy that really carries into so many other parts of our life together.”
The couple started tracking their months of consecutive skiing in November 2003, with the goal being to ski for one year straight. Sixteen years later, and they haven’t missed a single month since.
Although no one in Tahoe — or anywhere for that matter — can say for sure who holds the record for most months skied consecutively, Lagasse and Raymond are setting the bar high for the next generation of streak skiers.
In April 2018, the couple welcomed their daughter, Mika, into the world without missing a mark on their skiing calendar. Albeit mellow turns in the final trimester and after giving birth, Raymond was determined to keep the streak alive.
In doing so, the couple has naturally begun to pass off their passion for adventure and the great outdoors to Mika, making her perhaps the youngest streak skier ever, as the 1-year-old hasn’t missed a month of skiing with her parents since she was in the womb.
“I’d like for her to look up to us and see that we do things that make us happy,” said Raymond, whose responsibilities outside of being a new mother include secondary school teacher, yoga instructor, PhD candidate and host of the Coalition Snow podcast, “Juicy Bits.” “We work hard and play hard, and I think that’s a gift we can give her.”
For his 39th birthday in March, all Lagasse wanted to do was get Mika out on the snow — in her own set of miniature skis no less.
“If she doesn’t grow up and want to embrace skiing the way we do, that’s great,” Lagasse said. “I just want her to grow up with support and love, and for her to know we’ll support her in anything.”
A world-wide ski guide, freelance writer and collegiate-level educator, Lagasse’s passion for backcountry skiing has helped mapped the course of his life. Whether he’s heli-guiding in Alaska mid-winter or hiking in Desolation in search of the last remaining piece of cornice, Lagasse smiles through it all.
“Let’s be real here, this is a funny thing, and you have to laugh at yourself when you’re clicking into skis in September and skiing down a patch of snow just for fun,” Lagasse said.
At the end of the day, the best part of adventuring out on skis for Lagasse is being able to share the laughter with his adventure-seeking partner, helping prove that couples who ski together stay together.
“None of this would be what it is without the two of us together – it’s not always easy to make it happen, but doing it together is what makes me super grateful,” Lagasse said. “To take these dreams and make them a reality is something Jillian and I have done together, and that’s the best gift I think we’ve given each other.”
Jenny Goldsmith is a former reporter for the Sierra Sun and a former freelancer for Tahoe Magazine.