Lake Tahoe is an alpine lake sitting at about 6,225’ feet above sea level and located on the border of California and Nevada. A unclassified natural wonder of the world. Summer’s offer incredible hiking and waterspouts on the lake and winter offers some incredible skiing and snowboarding. The seasons in the middle of those two make it hard for locals to find activities to keep them happy and healthy. Autumn always brings cooler temps, amazing cloud structures and of course early winter season storms that kick up some serious wind. Now we all know Lake Tahoe is just that, a lake, but when the wind comes and it does. It can blow pretty fast, sometimes even up to 60 mph! Some adventurous board sports loving locals find ways to actually surf these waves produced from the storm winds. It is some sight to see. Way above sea level you would think no one could ride a wave on a surfboard designed to ride ocean waves and swells.
The wind speeds were up so I called up my buddy Logan Knutzen, a Tahoe local who also loves ripping his water stick, to see if he was interested in getting out there to shoot some photos. Of course if there were waves then he was onboard. Now these spots are considered “find it yourself” spots, so no beach names will be used. The first spot we hit had decent waves. The biggest difference between ocean and lake surfing would probably have to be the inconsistancy of the waves on the lake. You never know if the wave behind this will be better or worse, unlike the perfect swells that come and go on the ocean. Logan stayed out there for about an hour and we got some awesome shots. The first day was legit, but the next day was supposed to offer even more wind, so we planned on hitting it again tomorrow.
The next day it actually snowed in the morning. This is just to show you what these riders go through to catch some waves. It is definitely not 65 degree water surfing the shore of San Diego! Wetsuits, hoodies, booties, and gloves are all necessary. A duck dive with no hoodie in 45 degree water doesn’t feel too good on the brain. Ever heard of a real brain freeze!? Well I got to Logan’s house around 10:30 or so and we set off to search for waves along the edge of North Lake. The spot we hit yesterday offered no good waves like it was delivering the day before. Passing through Incline Village we drove to the East shore where from the road we spotted some serious waves crashing into shore. Yeah by the way, submerged rocks near the shore break are a constant fear. Falling from the board onto a boulder or riding over one is not ideal, but hey where’s the fun if there’s no risk! This spot had good amount of break. the wave was probably about 4-5 feet! Insane for a lake at 6,225’ feet and a depth of 1632’ feet. We had a solid day running up and down the coast of Tahoe searching for the best waves. The photos show how sick it was those days!
It’s still considered pre-season around here for most of the snowboard community who hasn’t been chasing winter around the globe or riding ridges out in British Colombia or Alaska. For us it is a time where we dust off the board from the corner of our bedrooms, grab the nearest screwdriver and begin tightening the screws on the pair of bastardized bindings left over from summer in Lake Tahoe. Every turn of the screwdriver, our senses ignite with joy and our memories of last season flood into our minds. Early snow near the Mt. Rose area enabled some Lake Tahoe riders their first taste of snow in winter. A few jibs and rails are set up off in the woods near the summit. Everyone is extremely eager to get the board back under their feet. Some riders however are picking up right where they left off.
I got the call to take the pre-season trip to Las Vegas for some competition I was skeptical about to begin with because snow, in Vegas, Really? But hey, its early season and there’s nothing else to do around North Lake. The plan, drive ourselves down to Las Vegas to cover Matt Shaffer, a sponsored snowboarder, while he competed to win a huge cash pot. The crew: Matt Shaffer, Dustin Dresser (Local Tahoe snowboarder and ripper), Kurt Brending (Film and photo man), and myself (another film and photo man).
Early Friday morning we packed the car to the gills with snowboards, snowboard gear, and camera gear. We piled into the small 4-door sedan, cramped as all hell, and left from Incline Village towards Vegas! This was not going to be a straight drive to the desert and back, no way. Mammoth Mountain just opened their lifts the day prior and was an absolute must on our way to Vegas. Along Rt. 395 down the Eastern side of the Sierras is an amazing drive. Long flat sections of earth butted up against some insanely steep and snowy mountainous terrain that leaves your mouth watering. We passed through landmarks like Mono Lake, the Eastern entrance to Yosemite Valley at Tioga Pass, through the June Lake Loop, and finally arrived into the town of Mammoth Lakes.
We shot some b-roll footage and snapped a few photos along the way, but as we neared the resort all our attention was focused on getting out of the car and getting on the hill. First lap, summit run of course! The first descent…pure ice on the face! Shit! It got much better as we reached the area where they set up a few rails. The set up was 3 sections, 2 features wide, on a 1000 foot blocked off area. All the shredders were there, Mike Rav, Tim Humphreys, The DC crew and now Matt Shaffer. Kurt busted out the death lens and got us all hiking the features while stacking the first few set of clips for the year. Everyone was throwing down and getting their shots, especially Matt sending switch and hardways. It was sick until our half day passes ran out at 4pm when Mammoth closed their lifts.
Our stay in Mammoth Lakes was not to be very long even though the party was definitely on here during the opening weekend. A stop at the store for a 30 rack of CL and a local restaurant for pizza, wings, and more beer had us set and ready to make the next 5 hour stint into Sin City. The course had us crossing through Death Valley at night, which is one of the creepier things I have ever done. All around you is empty until you see the faint outline of a looming dark mass which are foothills, although you never know if there is something in the form of life on the other side or more black abysmal. The nothingness switched to a few pairs of headlights coming at you to more and more society popping up around you. The sky is insanely bright because of the glow of Vegas’s obsession with neon lights and flashing bulbs. We arrive at ‘The D’, the hotel we were supposed to have a room in. We grabbed the important stuff out of the car and got to the front desk for check in. We’re exhausted but ready for Las Vegas. Of course, the hotel room was not booked, we were supposed to have it squared away but things never go as planned, do they? Luckily we bunked up with Mike Burton, fellow Gilaffe rider. Our first thought was to dump the bags and go get a drink. Our hotel was in Old Downtown Las Vegas. The famous Fremont Street and all its casino attractions and street performers. The real show is people watching because there are some strange people out there! We had to turn in not too long after just to be able to function tomorrow for the contest.
We spent the morning grabbing bomb breakfast and checking out the set up for the contest. It has been gnarly in years past, and this year was no different. After registering we ate, hit the hot tub, and napped until it was time to walk across the street to the events center for the contest.
Over 5000 tickets were sold to a ton of enthusiastic people waiting for the Throwdown. They were definitely in for a treat. Some other familiar names in the contest were Denis Bonus, Ryan Paul, Mike Burton, and Cody Boan. The idea was to have skiers vs. snowboarders. The judges would decide who rode the best overall and that person would win $4,000. The first place prize was a cool $3000 for the skiers and for the snowboarders. The location was epic, the lighting was epic, the set up was definitely one of a kind, and we were ready to see the riders do what they do best. The contest lasted a while and everyone was pretty worn out. After about 3 different jam sessions the finalists were chosen and announced on the music stage. The last session was the hardest hitting for sure. The top riders were throwing down everything they had! Some crazy bails hurt to watch and had one skier leaving with stitches and staples. The top 3 were chosen and announced!
1st: Ryan Paul $3000
2nd: Drayden Gardner $1500
3rd: Matt Shaffer $500
We were stoked for Shaffer on a late 3rd place announcement! Props man! Now it was time to do what any other person in Vegas would do after placing in a contest and not having anything else better to do…Rage! We hit Fremont Street and a few local bars and tore it up. The memories of the night are vague, but they say what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Waking up at the pool five minutes before checkout time is a testament to having a pretty solid night when it snows in Sin City.
Two nights ago,my buddy Kurt Randall and I took off from North Lake Tahoe headed towards the world famous Emerald Bay. Our mission: photograph sunset, the night sky, and sunrise the next morning. Obviously this was an overnight adventure. Hiking to a location to sleep overnight is something I have yet to do and I was so excited to get out there and finally do it.
We packed our camera equipment, water, beer, warmer clothes, a hammock, and a sleeping bag. All together my pack probably weighed close to 50 pounds. We walked toward Eagle Falls and up to Eagle Lake behind Emerald Bay where we veered off and began our trek up the granite face that lay in front of us. We had the idea to get as high up as possible to camp out for the night. After about an hour and forty-five minutes we made it to a nice location with trees and a steep rock drop that allowed for a nice unobstructed view of the bay. The hike up was treacherous in some spots and definitely had us wondering if we should turn back now or not.
Once we reached our camp spot we settled in and grabbed out sunset photo gear and actually walked farther up the mountain about another twenty minutes where we got close to the peak, still far away but it seemed close now. The sun was setting and we popped off a few shots in different locations capturing the colors of the sun as the shadow from the mountains we were on ran up the adjacent side of Lake Tahoe. About 9:10 we walked in the late evening light back to camp where we cracked a few beers, chatted and watched the rest of the show. We hung out until the stars began to appear, about a hour later.
We saw that in the area we were there was almost no light pollution except what South Shore, Tahoe was producing. The stars started to show up in the photographs. I started shooting at ISO 1600, F2.8, 17mm, for about thirty seconds. The Milky Way began to present itself as it was there the entire time but not dark enough to really pop yet. A few trees, rocks, and bushes gave a nice foreground and an opportunity to light paint during our exposures. I brought along my remote shutter control and that allowed us to set the camera to Bulb and keep the shutter open for longer than thirty seconds. We started to experiment with longer and longer shutter speeds which gave some really neat effects to the dark sky. The moon had set early so we were in luck as the least amount of light was around. The night moved along and at about 2:45am we turned in to sleep for a few hours before the sun rose. A little windy and a bit chilly but we made it without any serious emergency. Luckily I overpacked in the warm clothes department.
I slept poorly, but did sleep a bit. I awoke sharply thinking I overslept but peaked outside my hammock and noticed the faint coloring on the horizon like the sun was close to breaching the mountain tops. I quickly hopped out and grabbed my camera still in that “early morning just jumped out of bed” stuper. I got into position and set up the tripod with a desirable image in mind. The sky lit up and carried amazing colors with it. As soon as the sun began to peak I had already fixated the camera ready for a video of the rising sun. Moving around I captured a few more angles and then looked around at the morning light hitting the other scenes around me. 6:30am rolled around and the light was still amazing but we packed all of our things and started our journey down. Taking in where we were and what we did one last time before departing back towards the car park along the road at the bottom.
Our walk down was more of a journey in itself as we tried a new route and got stuck and forced back up granite rocks until we found the way we had came before. No use getting stuck somewhere we didn’t know. Back on the trail we moseyed our way down the granite face, over a scattered rock bed, through a dried up creek bed, back to Eagle Lake and down the trail to the parking lot. What an adventure it was! A little bushwhacking, climbing and ultimately finding. This was one to remember. Excited for more summer adventures like this one. Enjoy the gallery of images below and stay tuned for more.
Here is the video sped up of the sun peaking out from behind the east side of Lake Tahoe.