I’ve been making the four-hour drive from the Bay Area to Tahoe almost every Winter weekend since I was a little kid. My dad grew up skiing in Utah and he raised a skiing family in California. With two generations of weekend skiers, we’ve picked up a few tricks along the way.
1. What to Bring from Home.
Lesson #1: Avoid stops in the first place by bringing your own stuff. I have a pre-packed ski trip bag with a lot of the essentials so I can save money at the grocery store. A roll of paper towels, jars of peanut butter and jelly, breakfast bars, Ziplock bags, and whatever other non-perishables you like to eat. I use Mountainsmith bags to transport everything, and they’re great.
Don’t forget to bring some jugs of water, too, so you don’t have to waste money on bottled water. Keep the nighttime temperature of your destination in mind. If it’s very cold, smaller bottles of water will freeze, while larger ones may not.
2. Hit the ATM.
I usually go on my Friday lunch break. Now, I’ve got a pocket full of money and I’m going skiing. I’m getting fired up!
3. Gas, gas, gas.
This one is going to take some forethought and research on Google maps. You should time your fill-up to meet the following requirements:
- Cheap gas
- Timed for a possible bathroom break
- Don’t get to your destination with an empty tank
- Don’t get to the mountain with an empty tank
- Don’t get home with an empty tank
- Located in or near a basic strip mall would be ideal (more on this later)
Now, I’m a bit of a nerd. I know the gas mileage on my truck and I know exactly how far I drive on a weekend trip to my local mountain. I know it takes me about one-and-a-half tanks of gas to go from San Francisco to Tahoe and back. But I don’t want to leave on a full tank because 1) gas in SF is more expensive and, 2) I don’t want to get to Tahoe on an empty tank. I’ve found a great spot about half way up that has cheap gas where they give discounts for paying in cash (Good thing I went to the ATM!) and a decent little mini-mart. I usually arrive in Tahoe with about 2/3 tank of gas. That’s plenty of gas to drive from my accommodation to the mountain, and back to the cheap gas station.
Things to get at the gas station mini-mart:
- Coffee – But not for the drive. Bring a thermos and you’ll have piping hot coffee on the way to the mountain the next morning. See, always thinkin’ ahead. The trick is to put some hot coffee or water in the thermos and let it warm up. Dump it out and then fill it with hot coffee. It will still be really hot the next morning.
- Beef Jerky – My favorite car snack. Great protein. No junk food though – I’m trying to ski here!
4. Find a Strip Mall
Find a good strip mall that has a grocery store and a few other good shops, and try not to spend more than 20 minutes there. Make this the only stop other than gas and if your strip mall has a gas station, then you’re really stylin’. My strip mall of choice has some great options:
- Grocery Store – Get whatever you want, but make it quick. Personally, I try bring as much from home as possible (PB&J, can of chili, breakfast bars, etc.). My friends always seem to buy too much food and then get stuck with leftovers. Don’t buy too much and don’t waste too much time; get your beer and essentials, and get out of there. Get a water or Gatorade for the ride to the mountain tomorrow and leave one in the car for after skiing.
- Pizza Spot – This works great. I buy it Friday night and eat it Saturday. Feeds about 4 people for only $14.
- Burrito Spot – Get a burrito. Eat half for dinner on the drive, and if it’s cold enough, leave the other half in the glove box for breakfast tomorrow (genius, I know). It’ll go great with your gas station coffee. Tell them to hold the guacamole and sour cream because they won’t hold up over night.
- Fried Chicken – This may be the cheapest and most convenient stop but has a few serious downsides. Get a giant bucket of fried chicken, and eat it while driving to save time. It will make a mess on your shirt, your car will smell like fried chicken for quite a while, and there’s serious potential for a stomachache – not to mention the fact that it’s terrible for you. But the upside? Leftover fried chicken is still delicious! Leave the bucket in your car overnight and you have lunch for the mountain. Or have it for dinner for Saturday night. Fried chicken and beers on the tailgate makes for pretty decent après-ski.
- Cold Stone Creamery – Normally I’d tell you to stop screwin’ around and get back on the road, but we’re forgetting one all-important thing – your copilot (i.e. girlfriend or boyfriend or wife or kids or whoever)! It’s been a long week and (s)he is tired, getting sick of being in the car, and starting to get a little cranky. You know what makes a cranky person happy? Cold Stone. Just look at that smile!
At this point, you should have a tank of gas, food, and a happy copilot… So stop messing around and get back in the car! Drink plenty of water, and get a good night’s sleep. You’ve got a big day tomorrow, you crazy animal!
What are some of your tips for being the ultimate weekend warrior? Let us know in the comments below!
Please don’t leave food in your car overnight in the mountains. incredibly irresponsible to recommend people do this, ever heard of bears? I live in tahoe, the bears don’t hibernate as much as one would think