I should have probably mentioned this earlier, but both of us are extremely competent downhill skiers, so the mechanics of skiing shouldn't be an issue for us.
We were much more concerned with the backcountry aspects of such a trip, such as the broken gear problem you touched upon. Neither of us has any avalanche training, and we understand that snow conditions are not ideal right now (unfortunately, we are both college students, and a trip during the semester would be impossible to plan). We were hoping to find a location where we could do a decent amount of exploring and challenge ourselves without risking our lives in an avalanche or falling into a half-frozen lake. The trip we did in the past was the Badger Pass to Glacier point trail/road, where we had the advantage of stable snow and a very clear cut trail. We would love to do a trip that would expand our horizons a little bit more this time around.
While most downhillers are pretty proficient people, I've noted for some that it takes some getting used to not having your heels locked down if you plan on using tele gear, reflexes are for parallel skiing. Randonee gear isn't as good for most of the Northern Sierra, although you can find runs.
I never had any avalanche training when I first started, though I read the literature and watched movies and such. Basically it's common sense. You can get into finer points like snow analysis and bonding layers and all, but know enough to stay off unstable slopes as those 25 degrees or more, and usually you'll learn without getting buried. Don't take any dares to ski steep stuff without it being checked out, many bc users die this way.
I'd head for the Castle Peak Exit along I-80 and get a Sno-Park permit ($5?) from the motel there or in Truckee's Mountain Hardware, but be advised that they may be out of them. A marked snow trail, yes, with snowmobiles allowed, takes off there to Castle Pass. This is rated an advanced tour by the USFS, though I never had any problem when I first did it. Beginners have died here. If you can make it there and find it, there is a hut next to Round Valley that is open to the public, with outhouse and fireplace. The USFS used to patrol this route, though I think that is long past. The other route they'd patrol, back when, is Silver Creek off CA 89, about 5-10 miles south of Truckee, once an official cross country ski site. This is poorly marked last I saw (1980's) and as always you can get lost.
Bc skiing has long fallen out of favor by the main outdoor group that did that, so expect no company. So stay away from Desolation till you get more experience. "To err is human but the mountains do not forgive."