Lake Tahoe Basin

Winter Travel Planning Now Underway in Lake Tahoe

The Public Scoping phase ended December 9, 2019, but that’s just the beginning! The Draft Environmental Assessment (Draft EA) is estimated to be released by the end of 2025 to the public for a 30-day comment period. Stay tuned!


Lake Tahoe is world-renowned for winter sports. Nearly all of the terrain where people recreate, all around the lake — whether at a resort, in the backcountry, or beside a highway, whether on skis, snowboards, snowshoes, snowmobiles, or snow boots and plastic sleds — is on public land managed by the U.S. Forest Service’s Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit (LTBMU).

In March 2024 the LTBMU announced that “Planning for this project, while ongoing, has been delayed in order to work with the Humboldt Toiyabe National Forest and the State of Nevada on a comprehensive solution to the Mt. Rose Meadows area along SR431.”

The Forest Service is currently working through a process to plan for the future of winter recreation on these lands. Their goal is to designate specific routes and areas for snowmobile (Over-Snow Vehicle, or OSV) use in order to minimize impact to the environment and conflict with other forms of recreation, to update the current LTBMU Snowmobile Guide, and also to take a comprehensive, long-range look at access, parking, and motorized and non-motorized winter recreation opportunities.

You can find relevant official documents on the forest’s Winter Recreation and Over Snow Vehicle Travel Management project page (or see links below). Our preliminary thoughts and concerns are also outlined below.

The LTBMU published its latest Proposed Action on September 20, 2019. Then, through a public scoping period that ended December 9, 2019, it collected input from the public on a wide range of issues affecting winter recreation. Those who submitted comments will have “standing” to be able to comment and participate further during the later stages of the process.

Stay tuned to this page and to our social channels—or better yet, if you aren’t already, become a member of Winter Wildlands Alliance—for the latest developments and next steps.

USFS Scoping Documents




What We Support

We’ve been hearing from all sides that the proposed plan is far from perfect. There are many elements and areas of the proposal that we are concerned about (see below). But there are also elements we support, such as the:

  • Designation of a minimum snow depth of at least 12 inches in areas open to OSV use — as “a way for the Forest Service to help the public decide when it is appropriate to use an OSV and when they will not cause damage,” to “help reduce uncertainty,” and to provide “a certain level of protection for all resources without being overly restrictive or overly prescriptive for individual resources or different geographic areas”;
  • Designation of a season of use for motorized over-snow recreation — although given historic snowfall/snowpack patterns we feel that a more appropriate and reasonable open season would run from December 15 – April 30 rather than the suggested November 1 – April 15. 
  • Application of 5 “minimization criteria” as a basis for decision making and designation, including:
    • To minimize damage to soil, watershed, vegetation, and other forest resources;
    • To minimize harassment of wildlife and significant disruption of wildlife habitats;
    • To minimize conflicts between motor vehicle use and existing or proposed recreational uses of NFS lands or neighboring Federal lands;
    • To minimize conflicts among different classes of motor vehicle uses on NFS lands or neighboring Federal lands;
    • To consider compatibility of motor vehicle use with existing conditions in populated areas.
  • Recognition of the lack of winter parking and staging areas in the basin, the “need to analyze additional winter parking opportunities and allow snow plowing of existing paved surfaces outside of sensitive habitats,” and to “[c]onstruct additional winter parking capacity” and “[d]esignate locations suitable for snow play areas” — HOWEVER, we do not feel that the current proposal goes nearly far enough to address these issues;
  • Proposed closure to OSV use for “the area between Mt. Rose Wilderness and the City of Incline Village”;
  • Proposed closure of an “area near the Granite Chief Wilderness and within 500 feet of the Pacific Crest Trail”;
  • Desire to engage a stakeholder collaborative effort to help find workable compromise and reasonable solutions to on-the-ground issues.

What We’re Concerned About

  • North Quadrant/Mt. Rose Highway: This is currently ground zero for every type of winter recreation, and one of the biggest hotspots in the basin for conflict between different uses. Cars are frequently parked on both sides of the two-lane highway, families are sledding and playing in the snow near the road, snowshoers are walking out amongst the trees to hear the chickadees and squirrels, backcountry skiers are heading off on skin tracks to ski powder-filled bowls, and snowmobilers are firing up and unloading sleds for a run up to Relay Ridge. The Forest Service’s proposal is to alternate motorized use on an every-other-day basis. We think this is a surface-level solution, at best. At worst, it will increase rather than minimize conflict.
  • Lack of coordination between the LTBMU and the neighboring Humboldt-Toiyabe and Tahoe National Forests.
  • Lack of protected public-access family snowplay areas.
  • Proposed opening of OSV terrain at the lowest elevations and near neighborhoods with significant pedestrian and dog-walking activity.
  • Proposed opening to OSV use of popular and accessible non-motorized Gardner Mountain area east of Fallen Leaf Lake.
  • Lack of actual solutions to significant parking/staging issues for both motorized and nonmotorized recreation.

Our goal is to help the Forest Service get this right for the benefit of all users. Have suggestions? Click here to send us your thoughts and ideas today.

Background

Back in 2016, the LTBMU held informational open houses in order to provide the public and interested stakeholders an opportunity to provide feedback for the Winter Travel Management plan and accepted a first round of written comments. To see what we and some of our partners submitted by way of pre-scoping comments at that stage, click the links below:

For the latest updates from the forest service office, check the forest service’s LTBMU Winter Travel Management page. For updates, next steps, and specific action alerts on travel planning across the west and other important issues to the backcountry community, join our California Action Team and follow us on Facebook or Twitter.


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Winter Wildlands Alliance is a national nonprofit organization working to inspire and empower people to protect America’s wild snowscapes.

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Maps are important advocacy tools, providing us a way to clearly show the Forest Service how we access and explore the backcountry, helping to make the case during current forest planning efforts for protecting important non-motorized recreation areas.