No snow? Recreation firms shift their focus |

No snow? Recreation firms shift their focus

Rob Sabo

Nimble operators of firms that rent recreational equipment around Lake Tahoe are doing just fine despite a nearly snow-free winter, operating as if summer never came to an end.

Instead of renting winter gear such as skis, snowboards, snowshoes or snowmobiles, Lake Tahoe rental businesses say they are still renting summer equipment kayaks, mountain bikes and powerboats as residents and visitors take advantage of the unseasonably warm weather.

Harry King, owner of Tahoe Eco Sports, says kayak tours and kayak rentals comprise about 90 percent of his business this winter, a radical shift from last year, when they accounted for just 10 percent of revenues due to record snowfall.

“Last year was such a good ski season not nearly as many people were looking to get out there,” King says. “It is way different this year.”

Tahoe Eco Sports began year-round kayak rentals six years ago and invested in dry suits and similar gear for cold-water excursions on the lake, where water temperatures hover at a frigid 38 degrees. At those temperatures, King says, safety is of paramount importance.

“It is not like going out in the summertime. We have to get people into dry suits it’s the only way to survive a dip in the lake. The water temperatures are too cold to take a chance.”

Guided winter kayaking tours are a popular draw, King says, because paddlers have the beaches and lake all to themselves. Guided tours include lessons in rescue, dress, gear and safety issues. King says he’s seen decent winter rental business in other drought years, but nothing on the scale of this year.

“People seem to be drawn to tours in the snow they want to get photos of themselves with snow in background. It makes it a unique experience when you can sled down the beach in your kayak.”

In South Lake Tahoe, boat rentals remain brisk at time when boats normally are pulled out of the water, says Mike Umbdenstock, dock manager for Ski Run Boat Company.

Boats usually are out of the water by Thanksgiving, Umbdenstock says, but Ski Run Boat Company is still renting three to four boats per day as tourists take advantage of calm waters and record 55-degree temperatures.

Instead of taking weeklong ski vacations, tourists have begun splitting their time between the ski slopes and the lake, Umbdenstock says.

Vacationers are broadening their options to include sight seeing and taking a boat out on the lake for a few hours.

Boat rentals have been on the rise all season, riding a strong wave once summer really heated up in July.

“A couple of years we have been (renting boats) into the beginning of December, but generally by Thanksgiving we are getting into renting skis and snowboards. With the lack of skiing we have been able to extend our (boating) season a bit,” Umbdenstock says.

“This summer was really good – you think it would decline with the economy, but we had one of the busiest seasons on record and the season has been extended through the fall. We did have a late start, but as soon as it started it didn’t shut off.”

Mountain bikes rentals are still in high demand as well, because many seasonal trails around Lake Tahoe still are accessible due to meager snowfall. Jeff Pearlstein, technician at Village Ski Loft in Incline Village, says the shop isn’t renting too many skis, but people are still coming in to rent bikes on a regular basis. Bike rentals normally taper off in November.

“Normally we wouldn’t even be renting bikes,” Pearlstein says. “There has definitely been a drop off, but we are still renting bikes. People are going biking in January, which never really happens.”

A wide range of companies are finding opportunity in the dry winter, says Andy Chapman, chief marketing officer for the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association.

“While there certainly is a ski product available, and most if not all resorts are open to some extent, we are seeing activity providers doing well right now,” Chapman says. “We are seeing bike shops, paddleboard rentals and golf courses as being the ones that are seeming to take advantage of the situation.”