Lack of Lake Tahoe snow forces Great Ski Race cancellation | SierraSun.com

Lack of Lake Tahoe snow forces Great Ski Race cancellation

Sylas Wright
swright@sierrasun.com

A group of Wizard of Oz-themed participants — Debbie Kelly-Hogan, Suellen McGeorge, Toni Rockwell, Kim Szczurek, Laura Read, JoJo Toeppner, Blake Novoa and Beverly Lynch — head into the finish area during a past Great Ski Race. The event, which is the main fundraiser for the Tahoe Nordic Search & Rescue Team, was cancelled for the third time in four years due to low snowpack.

Back when the Truckee-Tahoe area received significant snowfall, the Tahoe Nordic Search & Rescue Team had one of the most popular fundraisers going — a classic 30-kilometer ski race between Tahoe City and Truckee.

Mother Nature has not been so accommodating in recent years, however.

Due to scant snowpack, Tahoe Nordic Search & Rescue was forced to cancel the Great Ski Race — its primary fundraiser — for the third time in the past four years. The race was scheduled for March 1.

"It's starting to look like a trend," said Chris McConnell, president of the Tahoe Nordic Search & Rescue Team and co-organizer of the Great Ski Race. "Let's hope that a March miracle sets us straight and we can get pointed in the right direction for next year."

In its 39-year history, the Great Ski Race had only been cancelled once prior to the 2011-12 winter. It was last held in 2013, despite a steady rain that deteriorated the course.

McConnell said that Tahoe Nordic Search & Rescue considered holding the event at Royal Gorge last year, a higher-elevation venue atop Donner Summit, but the team ultimately decided not to alter the historic race.

Recommended Stories For You

"To have a 30K race where we cut both skate ski and classic tracks through the backcountry is pretty special. So in lieu of trying to raise a few bucks for the team — which is much needed — and diminish the quality of the race, we favored with keeping the core experience," McConnell said. "If we can put on a Great Ski Race, we will, and if we can't, we won't. So that's where we're at."

The event is one of the largest cross-country ski races west of the Mississippi when conditions allow, drawing between 500 and 1,000 participants annually. The wooded course, which begins at the Tahoe Cross Country Ski Area in Tahoe City and ends at the Cottonwood Restaurant in Truckee, features 1,200 feet of uphill, 1,800 feet of downhill and a steep pitch to the finish line, where racers are greeted by a festive party.

Without its main fundraiser, the nonprofit, all-volunteer Tahoe Nordic Search & Rescue Team is feeling the affects of the recent cancellations.

"We're definitely in need of some support," McConnell said. "The team is getting old — 39 years — so our equipment is starting to get long in the tooth. There are things that need to be replaced. So over and above our operating expense, we have this wish list of items and gear that need to be replaced. We keep putting it off until we get the funds to do it."

McConnell said that several community groups and individuals have donated money in support of Tahoe Nordic Search & Rescue over the past few years, but not enough to offset the losses. And yet, despite the drought conditions, the rescue team remains active.

"This year we've had five searches. A couple weeks ago we saved three snowshoers who got lost going to the Benson Hut," McConnel said, adding that the team averages about a dozen rescues on a typical winter. "So even in low snow years, we're still busy, we still have searches, and we still make a difference in saving lives."

In need of help

Tahoe Nordic Search & Rescue is seeking donations to help fund its operating costs. To make a donation, go to the team’s website, tahoenordicsar.com, and scroll to the bottom of the page. Information is listed for donations via PayPal or mail.

READ MORE: In its editorial this week, the Sierra Sun urges the Tahoe-Truckee community to come together and help out Tahoe Nordic Search & Rescue, one of this region’s most valuable organizations.