A warm spot in snow country: Coppins Meadow lodge offers mom and pop experience
As his snow cat halts at the beginning of the road, Tom Dolley climbs out to greet each of his guests with a hearty handshake, just as he has with many others who have passed through his bed and breakfast over the years.
Typically in early April, he says, snow covers at least half of the nine-mile road connecting to highway 89, but today the snow cat ride to Dolley’s Coppins Meadow Lodge is only one mile.
“There should be 10 feet of snow out here right now,” Dolley shouts from the driver’s seat of his snow cat.
A popular spot for snowmobilers, Coppins Meadow Lodge is located 15 miles north of downtown Truckee off highway 89 at the Jackson Meadows turnoff. Set approximately nine miles from the highway, and congruous to Webber Lake, the 3,530-square-foot abode sits on 11 acres and is equipped with a helicopter pad, solar tracker, three generators, a warming hut, and two wells – everything the Dolleys and their guests need to get through the winter.
“We keep the warming hut open all the time, and never has anything been stolen,” Dolley says proudly.
It takes a certain type of person to live where the Dolleys do, especially during the cold months, when the only way out is a snow cat, and four feet of snow overnight coupled with 140-mph gusts of wind are not uncommon.
When Dolley and his wife, Ella May, bought Coppins Meadow Lodge four years ago, they didn’t plan on operating it as a bed and breakfast. They’ve never even advertised. However, over the last few years, below-average snow pack hasn’t stopped visitors from making the trip to enjoy the Dolleys’ hospitality – the four-room lodge has been booked every weekend all winter.
“All I ever wanted was a nice cabin where I could turn on the valve and get some water. I just kept adding on and adding on. Now this has become a full-time business,” lamented Dolley, who also owns Dolley Enterprises in Incline Village.
The couple put the lodge on the market in the fall. Once it’s sold, they want to build another cabin in the wilderness somewhere.
Yet, the setting of Coppins Meadow Lodge has special meaning for Dolley. When he was a boy, he spent summers at Webber Lake Ranch with his father, who was Truckee’s fire chief, undertaker, last constable, and mail deliveryman to Sierraville.
Dolley has owned a cabin on the waterfront for more than 30 years.
A short snowmobile ride over to Webber Lake Ranch reveals the true splendor of the area’s wilderness, with panoramic views of pines, streams and the lake. At the ranch, structures abundant with history and the wherewithal to last through many brutal winters overlook the frozen lake.
“That was an old stage coach stop in the 1860s,” Ken Bretthauer says, pointing to the main lodge. Bretthauer manages Webber Lake Ranch with his wife, Joan.
Primarily the ranch is open in the summer to those with a membership – $450 per season to fish the private lake. The Johnson family has owned the 3,000-acre ranch for decades.
“A lot of people have tried to buy this place, but it’s not for sale,” Dolley said.
In the winter, the Bretthauers keep busy by helping their neighbors, the Dolleys. Ken, a plumber and carpenter by trade, does household repairs, and Joan helps Ella May prepare food in the kitchen. Although their homes are isolated, the families take comfort that they have neighbors just a cross-country ski away.
After the return trip to Coppins Meadow Lodge, a couple of snowmobilers stop by to say hello. Dolley offers them a cup of coffee. They graciously accept and stay to chat while Ken fires up the barbecue for lunch.
“On the weekends we’ll have a couple hundred snowmobilers stop by for coffee,” Dolley says.
In the kitchen, Ella May and Joan prepare lunch; three meals a day is the norm around the Dolleys’ place. They know their guests get hungry after hours of romping around in the snow.
In fact, the Dolleys receive their guests with such warmth, it’s a wonder that they question why people keep coming back to Coppins Meadow Lodge.
“If you come out here for a weekend,” Dolley chuckled, “you’ll never want to leave.”
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