Where It All Began
Gary Bell moved to Lake Tahoe for a winter. Forty-four years later, he’s still here.
Gary knows a lot about Tahoe bike and ski culture, having owned his shop since 1980 and helping to organize the Tahoe Area Mountain Biking Association in 1988. When asked why he still enjoys turning people on to mountain biking and skiing after 40 years, he just smiles and says, “It’s about time spent in the woods.”
It all started more than four decades ago when Gary decided to move to South Lake Tahoe, for just one winter. That one winter turned into 44 years and the beginning of a lifelong love affair with Tahoe. Besides his laid-back style, Gary is serious when it comes to bikes and skis which stems from his years of exploring his backyard. Gary and Chris make it a point to understand the skier or rider, the terrain they prefer, fitness level, and the fun factor expectation.
Gary fell in love with the mountains at age four during family ski trips to Alpine Meadows. Seeking more time in the mountains than just weekend ski club trips from the Bay Area, Gary made the move when he turned 20 telling his mom and dad it was just for one ski season. Like any new dedicated ski bum back in 1976 Gary painted houses, shoveled snow off rooftops, towed people off the snow berm, and was a late night cook at the Nugget. Soon he landed a ski teaching gig at Heavenly Valley while at the same time he practiced his aerials off the ski ramp into the lake at Bill O’Leary’s World Freestyle Training Center at Zephyr Cove.
During the summer he worked for Frank at Tahoe Bike Shop and at the Clean Machine for Bill Miller. It was then when Gary and long-time friends Geoff Clarke and Gene St. Denis started exploring all the back-country trails on the first Tahoe-made mountain bikes called Clunkers that they built in 1978. Made from beach cruiser frames and big heavy tires, Gary and his buddies would ride their custom-built Clunkers all over, connecting abandoned hiking trails they called the “Cabin Ride” and “Tin Shack Ride.” Following one of their more crazy descents down Saxon Creek, they named the trail Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride – South Shore’s most famous trail to this day. Today, you can still find Gary and Geoff, a certified ski guide, deep in the back-country on their bikes or skis. Gene – still a wild man – continues to turn people onto nature with fishing outings on Lake Tahoe. With old Tahoe memorabilia decorating the walls and busting at the seams, Sierra Ski and Cycle Works is the unofficial official Tahoe bike and ski history museum. You can check out a Tahoe Clunker built by Gary in 1978 and share your own Tahoe trail tails with others at the shop daily.