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Lake Tahoe's Grand Cross-Country Ski Resort

Six of us, including two cross-country ski instructors, were taking a Nordic ski outing after a sumptuous evening meal at Royal Gorge Wilderness Lodge, located near Lake Tahoe, California. Fresh light powder over groomed track was our evening’s dessert. A fiery, long-lasting shooting star had just broken through the atmosphere in the northern sky near the Big Dipper. "What a glorious night to ski," Natalie Huberman said excitedly. "I love this place and the skiing is magnificent." The one-time competitive ice skater and her husband Bob have made Royal Gorge an annual one-week trek. The light powder made for smooth gliding as we crossed to our lodge on the edge of the frozen lake.

Placing skis on the outside rack, we entered for an evening of relaxation. Hot mulled cider, tea, a lively hearth, festive lighting, and comfy chairs awaited us. The only thing that could have kept us warmer, was a huge bed adorned with luxury bedding. With mulled cider in hand, I adjourned to a sequestered, dimly lit corner near a St. Moritz poster depicting a cross-country skier on a mountain traverse, backlit by blue sky and brilliant sun. I hoped this scene would be tomorrow’s reality. A few of us would ski to Point Mariah, overlooking the 4,417 feet deep Royal Gorge, and spectacular views of California’s High Sierra country.

Cozy lodge
Relaxing in Rainbow Lodge

Vacationer Philip Hunter practising
his skating stride at Royal Gorge

Royal Gorge

Royal Gorge cross-country Ski Resort offers a unique outdoor/indoor adventure experience combining the rigors of physical activity with hedonistic pampering. A stay at the lodge is a true wilderness meltdown. No crowds or the hum of traffic. Royal Gorge is North America’s largest cross-country resort, covering 9,000 acres with 90 trails and 220 miles of groomed track. It encompasses five unique track systems, each one as large as most other cross-country ski areas. "Van Norden," "Devil’s Peak," "Lodge," "Ice Lakes" and "Palisade Peak" track systems embrace an entertaining array of trails designed for all kinds of skiers. Throughout the day and night, modern snow cats traverse each track system, peeling, slicing, aerating and remolding the snow, leaving in their wake a superior gliding surface. This is the Royal Gorge product at its purest — smooth, fresh tracks winding up, down, through and across some of the most breathtaking terrain in the Sierra Nevada.

A framework of 28 novice, 46 intermediate and 16 advanced trails define Royal Gorge. Two diagonal stride tracks are located on each trail with a skating lane between. The longest is the 22 kilometer "Rainbow Interconnect" from Summit Station to Rainbow Lodge, offering a shuttle return or overnight old world lodge accommodations. Adding trailside pleasures to the Royal Gorge system are 10 warming huts, four trailside cafes, two hotels and four surface ski lifts. 

Morning gathering at
Royal Gorge Wilderness Lodge

Sierra vista
(Photo: Royal Gorge)

Sleigh Ride To Culinary Delights

Guests bundle up in furs for a novel, snow-cat-pulled sleigh ride to Royal Gorge Wilderness Lodge. It is a good time to get acquainted with fellow travelers or to snuggle tight with your significant other. Our group sang a couple of bawdy Irish pub songs and a not-so-respectable rendition of Jingle Bells.

If for nothing else, a stay at Royal Gorge Wilderness Lodge is worth the culinary experience. Australian chefs Toni Paton and Tosh Tarr give new meaning to "wilderness" cooking. Sixty-eight year old world traveler Jerry Zyskowski and his wife, Mary, equate the lodge food fare to "as good, if not better, than the best we’ve had around the globe. I was hard pressed to name my favorite dish, as they were all superb. Was it classical osso buco topped with herb gremolate, pan seared sea bass, cous cous and blue cheese cakes, Szechwan eggplant and tofu kebabs, caramelized onion and Swiss cheese frittata, carrot and roasted fennel soup, Tuscan bread salad or tampenade? Since undecided, I think I need a return trip to sample the pissaladiere and mushroom ragout before an "objective" decision can be reached.

Sumptuous culinary fare
at Royal Gorge

Ski School

Any notion of gaining weight at Royal Gorge is soon dispelled when one straps on cross-country skis for the day’s treks and ski classes. "Mastering a new sport has never been quicker, easier or funner," says Jane Dulaney, Director of Marketing. "With a lesson from one of our enthusiastic instructors and the benefit of state-of-the-art equipment, you’ll be flying along the trails in no time."

Ski instructors frame entrance
to Royal Gorge Wilderness Lodge

Instruction on telemarking

There is ski instruction both in the morning and afternoon for all levels in striding, skating, and downhill techniques. Self-guided or instructor tours are also available. Among my favorite outings were exploring nearby Deer, Kidd and Upper Cascade Lakes. A nearly all-day pilgrimage to Point Mariah was rigorous and memorable.

The countries of Australia, New Zealand, Africa, Norway, Britain, Switzerland and Canada represented Royal Gorge Wilderness Lodge’s staff. Surprisingly, there were no Americans. The 20 person staff does it all, from busing tables to ski instruction, always with a sense of humor and delight.

Rainbow Lodge
Rainbow Lodge entrance

Rainbow Lodge

A stay at the Rainbow Lodge, along the picturesque Yuba River, would complete my Royal Gorge experience. It is a unique Sierra hideaway where one returns to the warmth, charm and beauty of the Sierra’s historic past. The pine-logged lodge is cozy and intimate, fitting like an old pair of Nordic boots.

A highlight was the elegant Engadine Cafe, which offered the finest in French, and California cuisine. As I unwound with a California microbrew in the Engadine Lounge, I was captivated by the historic black and white photographs of the early days of Sierra Nordic skiing. Today’s "high-tech" methods are bringing the beauty of the Sierras to so many more adventurers.

Click here to plan your own trip to Royal Gorge Cross-Country Ski Resort

Larry Turner
Article and Photos

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