Life above the lake: Kingsbury Grade and the culture at an elevation of 7,375 feet
Johnny MacDonald lives in a house near the top of Kingsbury Grade – 1,000 feet or so above Lake Tahoe. The air is thinner, and winter storms regularly dump several feet of snow on the area. It’s a five-mile trip down a curvy road to the nearest Safeway. But MacDonald said he loves the area and tries his best to avoid what he describes as the busy life down at the lake. “If it’s not at Tramway Market, I don’t need it,” MacDonald said, referring to upper Kingsbury’s convenience-sized grocery store.
MacDonald has lived for 22 years in the upper Kingsbury Grade area, a relatively isolated region that has developed its own culture. He said to live up on Kingsbury, a person has to like snow and be a little crazy.
The area is in unincorporated Douglas County, but has its own unofficial mayor. Residents gather weekly for a free-for-locals spaghetti night at the Fox & Hound Bar & Grill. Kingsbury Grade reaches to 7,375 feet at Daggett Summit.
The community is tight-knit, caring for its full-time residents and welcoming to visitors.
“Once you move up here, you never want to move down,” said Carolyn Treanor, general manager of Tahoe Village and Summit Village.
Upper Kingsbury’s main arteries start at Buchanan Road and extend to North and South Benjamin drives, Tramway Drive and Quaking Aspen Lane. The area also is home to Heavenly Mountain Resort’s Nevada lifts, which include Stagecoach and Boulder.
Many residents call Michael Paulson, director of maintenance at Tahoe Village and Summit Village, “the mayor.” The area has the best snow removal because everyone is ready for a heavy snowfall, Paulson said.
He said he’s known as the mayor because he’s been on Kingsbury Grade since 1972 and can answer questions about the area. If people need help with anything, he’s always there to lend a hand.
In the Fox & Hound Bar & Grill, you’ll find stockings hung behind the bar with the names of employees and locals written in puff paint along the tops.
The top of Kingsbury is more than just a place to live – it’s an extended family, residents contend.
“It’s our own town,” said Angel Bulnes, a bartender at the Fox & Hound.
No one knows how many people live at the top of Kingsbury, due to the number of timeshares and rentals. Most single-family homes are located in Kingsbury Village, and most seasonal homes are in Tahoe Village and Summit Village.
Resident Pat Bleakney divides the population into two extremes: longtime residents who have been in the area for decades, and skiers who are there for six months out of the year.
Bleakney moved to the top of the hill in 1976. He said he came for the skiing. Back then, when he rode the Heavenly lift, he had to pull up his skis or they’d drag in the snow.
Bulnes likens Kingsbury to one big family, because everyone helps each other out. She had her baby shower at the Fox & Hound and said that while she was on maternity leave, everyone asked about her and her daughter Neaveh.
Veteran resident Ron Stowell doesn’t like to go down into town.
“I don’t dislike people, but I don’t like crowds,” he explained.
As Tramway Market manager for the past 18 years, Pam Bricker sees lots of local Kingsbury folk. She said many Kingsbury residents work out of their homes, and on their breaks, they usually stop in the market to buy a few things.
“Tramway saves me from going down the hill all the time,” said John Hanson, an account executive who works out of his home. He said he’s lived in the area for 11Ú2 years.
The market is known for stocking most items, which helps residents stay on the hill, they say.
And then there’s spaghetti night.
Every Monday night, locals pack the Fox & Hound for all-you-can-eat spaghetti and the occasional raffle with prizes ranging from buttons to clothing.
MacDonald eats dinner at the Fox & Hound every Monday night because he normally eats breakfast and lunch there every day. He said he doesn’t like to do dishes.
And though the Fox & Hound is known for its local scene, Bulnes said tourists come back every year and stop in to visit.
Even when people move away, they still come back up to hang out, Bulnes said.
No one ever truly leaves Kingsbury, she said.