Around Northstar

The Northstar resort lies to the west of Brockway Summit, the top of Mt. Pluto being its highest point. It isn't the most challenging place to ski, but some parts of it, particularly off-piste areas of the "Backside" (west of Mt. Pluto), can be wonderful during and just after major storms.

In addition to this major downhill resort, Northstar's runs an unimpressive cross-country resort, mostly west of the downhill area, centered around the 7100' saddle, Sawmill Flat. Southwards, between Mt. Watson and Tahoe City, is another XC resort, recently renamed "Tahoe XC", I believe. And, in most of what's left, there is a huge amount of snowmobile activity, with snowmobile routes crisscrossing all over the place.

  Bob at Northstar
Bob emerges from the backcountry
Still, you can get a good tour going in this area, particularly if you do it on a weekday when the snowmobile traffic is reduced. In March '01, we parked at the Martis Peak trailhead just north of Brockway Summit, crossed the highway, and ascended southwest to the top of the modest 7700' hill. We took off skins and descended southwest, and then west, crossing some trails at the XC resort. Then we contoured along 7100' to 7200' until we crossed into the Northstar downhill resort, and descended resort slopes to the "village" area at the bottom.

Another idea, avoiding Northstar, would be to descend from the above-mentioned 7700' hill more to the southwest, and follow snowmobile trails westward between Mt. Pluto and Mt. Watson. (You could also reach the Pluto-Watson saddle by skiing out-of-bounds southwards from near the top of Northstar's "Challenger" run, which descends the "backside" from Mt. Pluto, the top of Northstar; note that Northstar forbids out-of-bounds skiing, so this option is "not recommended".)

From that saddle between Mts. Pluto and Watson, you can descend northwest to 7550', where the snowmobile trail swings south (going north right here would quickly pop you back into Northstar). At around 7100', the main snowmobile highway turns back to the northwest, and you can continue in that direction and then north, all the way to Truckee. The best time to do this is during the annual Tahoe-to-Truckee "Great Ski Race", 30K, the first Sunday in March. This race is very non-racer friendly, and there's a good party at the end. The race route starts at Tahoe XC, northeast of Tahoe City, does a steady ascent around Mt. Watson's west side to the Pluto-Watson saddle, sweeps down around to the west side of Sawtooth Ridge, and cruises north to Truckee.

Connecting with the next Tahoe Loop tours. There are two options that I've tried:

Free day parking is available at the Martis Peak trailhead north of Brockway Summit, at Northstar resort, near Tahoe XC along certain residential roads, at the Silver Peak trailhead on highway 89 (2.3 miles north of the Squaw Valley intersection), at various places around Truckee, and along the road at old Donner Pass. Most of this area is relatively low elevation, and best skied by late winter.

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