1/7/12 Update: It has been pretty warm at Serene Lakes for the last week and the ice has gotten pretty thin. There have been reports of people going through the ice on the edges. It is probably best to wait until the weather gets colder and the ice thickens up before doing more skating.
The summit never ceases to surprise us. Last year it was the snow. This year it’s the ice. We are just finishing the 4th driest December on record and there is still no significant snow predicted for the next 10 days. We always seem to be dealing with extremes on the summit. The only skiing up here right now is on machine made snow. While the snow may not be coming this winter, the low temperatures are. Most of the ski resorts these days have installed snow making equipment on at least some of their runs to allow skiers and boarders to get down the slopes. Sugarbowl and Boreal both have top to bottom runs open thanks to their snow blowers and the freezing temps.
The sparkling silver lining in the lack of precipitation this year is the presence of clean smooth ice on Serene Lakes and Lake Van Norden. In a normal year the lakes usually freeze at the beginning of December and then are immediately covered with a blanket of snow that leaves no bare ice. The lack of snow this year, however, has turned out to make it a banner year for the ice, and for skaters. Temperatures in the teens and low twenties, even during the day, resulted in 4-6 in thick ice on the lakes giving skaters the best ice skating in many years.
The skating seems to be the best on Lake Dulzura at Serene Lakes. There is easy access to the ice at the boat ramp on Sierra Rd. At the beginning of December the ice was perfect (according to my wife) and there were a few skaters out every day. As the word spread about the perfect ice, more and more skaters appeared followed by large groups of hockey players. As this article is written just after Christmas, there now two or three hockey games a day on the lake. Fortunately, the days have been clear and the sun in the middle of the day melts the surface ice and then it refreezes at night to remove the scars from the hockey game that day. This natural Zamboni effect has continued to make for good skating. Skaters have also hiked out over the dam at Lake Van Norden to cut up the ice. What I hear is that the ice is pretty bumpy in spots, but very skateable.
So if you’re visiting the summit over the holidays, bring your skates if you have them. For those of you looking for skates, unfortunately because this a rare event, there have not been any rental venues. There are a few places in Truckee like the thrift store and the Sports Exchange that sell used skates, but I’m told they are mostly in kid’s sizes. There was a posting on Facebook that the ski shop at the blinking light would be renting skates starting this week, so you might check there. If you do get a pair of skates, the best entry points are the Sierra Rd boat ramp on Lake Dulzura, the lagoon near Island Wy on Lake Serena and the dam at Lake Van Norden. There are some areas of open water and thin ice along the edges of both of the Serene Lakes so skating out in the middle on the thick ice is best. And make sure you watch out for flying hockey pucks when you’re out there.