Sagehen Summit provides a good track for snowshoers and skiers looking for a quieter alternative to Tahoe's more populated winter trails and roads. The route begins on Sagehen Summit at about 6,510 feet in elevation and follows Sage Hen Road as it quickly passes a gate that closes the road to any snowmobiles or traffic aside from guests of the University of California, Berkeley, Field Station that lies along the route. Field Station traffic is sparse, and skiers will have a clear course as the road soon dips down about 130 feet to parallel Sagehen Creek.
From the low point of the trail at about 6,380 feet the road winds between pine trees that provide shade over the path. At times the scenic forest covered in snow may seem far from civilization and takes on a winter wonderland appearance. The route gradually climbs about 200 feet before passing the few buildings of the Field Station and eventually reaching the Sagehen Campground.
The campground is a site with few amenities, only a small bathroom building and several tables that mark the sites. Though it also makes a great place to stop, or wander over to the creek where it meanders from the forest and out into open meadow. Be careful because much of this campground is a meadow, and beneath possibly thin ice are the flowing streams that might make for wet feet for the careless explorer.
While the Field Station employees keep the road plowed between the gate and the Field Station and car use tends to flatten the road down even more, it is possible to stick to the edges of the road for a thicker base of powder to ski through. And beyond the Field Station the powder sees no car traffic at all.
The Field Station lies about 2 miles from the beginning of the road, and the campground sits at another 1.1 miles past the Field Station. But Sage Hen Road continues west, making the road perfect for an easy ski out into the forest that can be cut to create the length that suits the skier.
Though the grade is gradual, keep in mind that the final mile to the trailhead will require a slight climb of 130 feet.
Winter backcountry adventures can be dangerous outdoor activities that pose significant risks as conditions affecting safety (i.e. weather, snowpack stability, avalanche hazard) are constantly changing. Prior to engaging in these activities each individual should get the proper training to make safe decisions and be equipped to use avalanche safety resources and tools. Please visit our Backcountry Skiing and Avalanche Safety post to learn more.