SOUTH LAKE TAHOE - Doug Anderson jammed his rented Bob Cat snowblower into a bank of snow covering the Pope-Baldwin Bike Trail in South Lake Tahoe. The auger ground into the ice a few inches. He raised the arm, reversed and charged at the snow again. After 20 minutes, he cleared a few dozen feet of the trail.
"You just inch along and this isn't even the bad part," Anderson said. "If you keep it down, the tracks just spin. In some sections you have to hit it four or five times."
Anderson, using more than $1,500 of his own money, is clearing the eight miles of bike trails along Highway 89 so he can open his bike rental business, Anderson's Bike Rentals, which his father started in 1978. He's been clearing the trail since 1984 when he'd get out there with shovels and brooms. Elsewhere in the Tahoe Basin trails are shaping up for hiking and biking, but many won't be ready for weeks.
"If I don't do it, it would've been a month (before the trail was clear)," Anderson said. "And the snow this year is bulletproof."
Most of the Tahoe Rim Trail is still buried in snow, said Tahoe Rim Trail Association executive director Mary Bennington.
"We don't expect to see the ground on most of the Rim Trail until June or July," she said. "Obviously, the snowpack is much heavier this year."
Even when the snow does melt, there's a lot of maintenance that will need to be done.
"Last year we cleared 119 trees," Bennington said. "My guess is there will be more this year. On a bad year we've had up to 300."
On the East Shore, where precipitation is typically the lightest in the Basin, the Skunk Harbor Trail is mostly clear. But higher up, the trails are still better for cross-country skiing than hiking.
"I was up at Marlette Lake in a snowcat and there is still so much bloody snow," said Max Jones, who founded Spooner Lake Cross Country 26 years ago and also runs bike rentals out of the Spooner Lake shop.
The trail around Spooner Lake probably won't be open until close to Memorial Day, Jones said. The East Shore's Flume Trail, popular with mountain bikers, probably won't be clear until around the Fourth of July.
Spooner Lake Cross Country is now closed, but there will still be plenty of snow around if skiers want to come up and enjoy it, Jones said.
He hopes the trails survived the winter, he said. Bikers and hikers should avoid trails when they're too wet or muddy.
"We didn't have many rainstorms this winter, so the dirt should've stayed pretty tight."
Later in the year, Jones plans to invite bikers to help maintain the trails. With help from the U.S. Forest Service, mountain bikers and hikers, the flow of the trails in the Spooner area keep getting better, Jones said.
The parking lot at Eagle Falls, the gateway to Desolation Wilderness, was still buried in several feet of snow last week. Splitboarders and ski tourers were still making turns down Hall of the Gods and Eagle Peak.
Back at Pope Beach, Anderson battered away at the thick snow, in some places 4-5 feet deep. He was at it for more than 25 hours with the snowblower. Next, he planned to go to Carson City to rent an industrial strength sweeper and polish the asphalt for another eight hours or so.
"I think, after the winter we've endured, people are ready to get out here," he said.