The North Lake Tahoe Resort Association is still beating the dead horse that is the laughably ineffective #TouchLakeTahoe ad campaign.

Written by Kyle Magin

Dairy Queen makes an OK burger. It’s melty and juicy and cut from sort of the same cloth as a Wendy’s burger. You’ve never seen a commercial for a Dairy Queen burger, though. DQ advertises what it does best: ice cream. Blizzards, treats, cakes. If you run into a burger while you’re there, old man Queen is all the happier, but he’s not going to use it as a hook to draw you in.

This is a relatively simple advertising model for businesses with large portfolios, but one premier calling card. It’s something the folks at North Lake Tahoe—properly the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association, the quasi-governmental body charged with marketing the North Shore area—would do to take to heart. While they sell one of the west’s premier winter sports hubs, they continue to market their burger in the form of the #TouchLakeTahoe ad campaign.

Through its various permutations, the campaign—which encourages visitors to come down to the shores of Lake Tahoe during the winter and post photos of the experience using the branded hashtag—has been an incomprehensible trainwreck. Instead of spending advertising money talking about the thousands of acres of skiable terrain, the snowshoeing, the snowmobiling, the hiking and biking in dry years, the #TouchLakeTahoe campaign urges visitors to enjoy the very unsexy, very sedentary activity of walking down to the lake.

The cynical idea behind this campaign, as explained to me by the NLTRA’s incompetent and wasteful former CEO Sandy Evans Hall, was to get people to visit North Tahoe’s sleepy towns and spend a little money there as opposed to strictly hanging out at the resorts (who, it shouldn’t need to be noted, are key supporters of the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association) come winter. It was a small-minded move that reeked of money-grubbing by the little merchants in the lake towns who wanted a campaign to push their interests as opposed to a plan that took the entire region and its gamut of activities into account.

#TouchLakeTahoe is idiotic on a couple of levels:

  1. As stated, the lakeside towns in winter are Tahoe’s burger. They’re mostly quiet and feature very little nightlife. The food sucks as a general rule—it’s shitty, overpriced American fare with a few wonderful exceptions. Unless you’re in Nevada, which isn’t a prime NLTRA concern, there aren’t a lot of beds for heads in towns like Tahoe City and Kings Beach. Winter recreation inside the towns is minimal—Tahoe City has some small-time amusements on its golf course, but that’s about it. The shopping is only notable if you’re a turquoise jewelry enthusiast or a fan of carved wooden bears.
  2. There’s no there there. Listen, I love the lakeshore as much as the next person when a storm is rolling in. But a stroll down to the shore to take in the view is about the extent of the actual value of touching Lake Tahoe in the winter. It doesn’t compare with the electric excitement of hearing Headwall just opened and rushing over to the chairlift. It’s not as grand as the view down from Chickadee Ridge while you kick off your snowshoes and picnic with sandwiches. It certainly doesn’t measure up to the thrill of slicing through powder on a snowmobile screaming along the side of Mt. Watson. No, touching the lake will give you a majestic view, maybe a nice photo, and a second-rate winter experience at Lake Tahoe.

By continuing to f*** that chicken, NLTRA is pushing a sleepy view of Tahoe for cynical reasons that don’t quite hold up under even the lightest scrutiny. The towns are important base camps, but they aren’t the star of the show. Neither, for that fact, is the lakeshore. Unless you’re talented and equipped enough to kayak or SUP in the dead of winter, it’s a nice backdrop until beach season. NLTRA should push the family activities, the big ski runs, and the acres of trekkable, rideable backcountry terrain. It needs to move on totally from the disastrous near-past of its former leadership. To do otherwise sells the lake, and its surroundings, short.

Photo: Christi Virdee