Rich Meyer is a man on a mission. That mission? To make the backcountry in California’s Lake Tahoe region more accessible.
Meyer has been a mountain guide for more than 15 years, leading trips around the world and at home in the Sierras. As a board member and ambassador for the Winter Wildlands Alliance, Meyer has been working to grow the backcountry community on a grand scale, but more recently he began directing his efforts to his home front.
Meyer, along with a few committed locals and friends in the Tahoe area, founded a fledgling backcountry organization whose mission is to be “the voice for the human-powered winter backcountry community in the Lake Tahoe area.” The impetus for the organization is twofold: the general desire to create a cohesive backcountry community with a unified voice and the need to inform policy surround a current issue over parking in the Tahoe area that we reported on last week.
We talked with Meyer to find out more about the reasons for founding this organization and what role it might serve in the future. Here is the Tahoe Backcountry Alliance’s story in Meyer’s own words.“We felt like, hey, there are tons and tons of backcountry skiers in Tahoe, the community is only growing and issues like parking, ski-area backcountry access, uphill ski travel in the ski areas, the tram at Squaw between Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley, all these issues, we have either been having them or they’re going to come up very soon. Not to mention the mandate that was sent down finally for the Forest Service to create a winter travel plan for snowmobiles and off-road vehicles (Read more about this here). We know all these things are coming down the pike—all these issues have been brewing, or they will be boiling very soon. So David Reichel and I—we work together teaching avalanche classes and ski guiding—we said, “We really gotta do this. No one has stepped up, and we really just have to go for it.” The Winter Wildlands Alliance has been supportive; they will be our nonprofit, fiscal sponsor.
“Geographically, it is a little more challenging than the Wasatch because the Wasatch is tight and small. Tahoe has the North Shore and the South Shore. Although it is all Tahoe, they’re different communities. We’ve got Nevada and California, so we have a lot of different agencies in different counties to contend with. As you are aware, we also have the Tahoe Regional Planning Association (TRPA), which is the big brother in the room that is supposed to advocate for the lake and all of the communities surrounding the lake.
“When we were talking about forming the organization last spring, we didn’t have any real timetable. We were not in a big hurry to launch the alliance, but as soon as the Caltrans (California Department of Transportation) paving project was noticeably taking away parking, the backcountry skiers almost pushed us into action. We were like, “OK, we need to start the engine and do it now.” We had an issue that everyone could rally around. The parking issue was a perfect catalyst to kick start our group because everybody can rally around the idea that the loss of parking is a bad idea.
“Our first goal is to see this parking issue through. There was a meeting on this issue scheduled for October 23 that has been postponed. We were going to rally people to come in and say, “What’s up with our parking?” But because Todd Offenbacher and Mike Schwartz (Tahoe locals) met with the TRPA and had a really positive meeting, the TRPA has pushed out a letter saying that they are going to postpone that meeting. They have chosen to go under advisement and now we are in a little bit of a wait-and-see period.
“There are a million nonprofits out there, so we are looking to be the voice of the skiers. We want to be an open, transparent organization where the locals, the skiers, can chime in and say, “This is what we want, this is what we need, this is what we see.” Then we can act for them. We are not looking to raise money or hold a ton of events; we just want to be a backcountry community. You need that local, grassroots power and enthusiasm to get stuff done and that’s what we are really hoping for.”