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Tahoe Nugget #59:

Road to Skier's Paradise (3 Photos)
March 24, 2006

Although the Lake Tahoe-Truckee region is well-known as a popular destination for world class skiing, almost 65% of the clientele who visit the region each winter drive up from the San Francisco Bay area. Two main highways (Highway 50 & Interstate 80) are vital to the movement of tens of thousands of vehicles arriving from Northern California and the Bay Area. Every winter the California Dept. of Transportation spends millions of dollars deploying an army of men and women, and an armada of snow removal equipment to keep many of the roads into the Sierra open. Heavy snowstorms and accidents due to treacherous driving conditions occasionally close the roads to Tahoe, but never for long.

Before 1930, the only way to reach the Tahoe-Truckee winter playground was by train. With transportation to the snow covered mountains limited to the railroad, there was little opportunity to develop a multitude of winter resorts so that skiers could take advantage of the varied topography available in the region. It would take the energy and vision of the members of the Auburn Ski Club to finally convince the California Legislature that it was in the state's economic interest to tackle snow removal on highways into the mountains.

Founded in 1930, the Auburn Ski Club and its visionary president Wendell Robie, were instrumental in convincing California politicians to support their nascent winter sports program. Well-organized, politically savvy, and well-connected (California's governor was a member), the Auburn Ski Club arranged for legislators to visit the club's "ski grounds" on Highway 40 (now I-80). On January 18, 1931, 56 automobiles showed up at the State Capitol in Sacramento to ferry all willing legislators and their families up to the mountains.

The convoy enjoyed a large Highway Patrol escort which led it into the snowbound mountains. The political pilgrimage to the Sierra snow country was closely followed by 2,400 other vehicles packed with winter sports enthusiasts who were there to show their support. At the ski grounds, skiers entertained the legislators with jumping exhibitions and adult refreshments were provided by E. Clampus Vitus (prohibition notwithstanding). The monumental traffic jam that occurred with all these vehicles stuck at the end of the road convinced the politicians that Robie was right. Gasoline taxes paid by the skiers heading for the hills would easily pay the State's expenses in keeping the roads plowed. The very next day, the State Legislature authorized more than $750,000 for snow removal equipment and personnel, and the development of California skiing was officially underway.

Photo #1: Southern Pacific RR "Snowball Express"
Photo #2: Tough winter traveling on early Sierra roads
Photo #3: Modern travelers take open winter roads for granted
 

Nugget # 59 A Snowball Express ID

Nugget #59 B Model T on snow highway ID

Nugget #59 C Hgwy 80 truck ID

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