Fly to California for skiing?
Isn’t Colorado or Utah the place to go for snow? A recent trip to Lake Tahoe
sure changed our view. Do you like glorious sun, gorgeous scenery, lots of ski
areas and tons of snow?
Turns out Lake Tahoe’s got all that, 300-days of sunshine, the largest
concentration of ski resorts in North America, and snow measured in feet not
inches. But my reason for loving Lake Tahoe is
Lake Tahoe itself, the brilliant blue centerpiece at the heart of all this sun
and snow-soaked peaks.
In our ski week in Lake Tahoe, we skied 5 of Tahoe’s 18 ski resorts, making our way
around the stunning shores of this deep azure Lake. If you prefer to settle into
one resort instead of slope hopping Tahoe’s 24,000 ski-able acres, here is a bit
about each of the areas we explored.
is an ideal place to start your ski tour, on Lake Tahoe’s North Shore. Passing
through the stunning mountainside Village, make note of après ski wine
tasting, and ice skating for the kids on the centerpiece rink surrounded by
inviting outdoor couches. From the sophisticated Village, the gondola launches
you to Northstar’s 70+ trails and six high-speed quads, or to the slopeside
Ritz Carlton Lake Tahoe at Northstar.
Northstar is the most eastern like area with trail skiing amid towering
lodge pole pines, a beautiful intro to the High Sierra ski scene. A young family
could stay at Northstar for the week, engrossed in their award-winning lesson
programs. Our teens loved Northstar’s plentiful terrain parks, including the
built by snowboard-inventor Jake Burton. I loved our first bright blue view of
Lake Tahoe from Northstar’s Summit Deck at 8,610-feet. My husband Greg
enjoyed lunching al fresco in California sunshine (not something we do in Maine
frequent. The Ritz Carlton Lake Tahoe
at Northstar offers sophisticated on slope lodging and a ski valet.
Meadows was our next mountain. The antithesis of Northstar’s destination
resort and tree-lined skiing, Alpine is 80% above tree bowl skiing, with a
decidedly local “vibe.” There’s no slopeside lodging, and the best terrain is
out of bounds and legal with a most liberal backcountry policy. Alpine’s multi-faced mountain
offers steep chutes and snow filled gullies on
the front side, then sun-soaked bowls and Lake views on the back. Mid-mountain,
The Chalet is a charming spot for a homemade lunch, with mostly outdoor seating
(another indication of the desirable western winter weather).
Après ski is obvious from Alpine Meadows - follow the locals, the access road
and the Truckee River to
The River Ranch Lodge,
a wonderful watering hole since 1888 with fascinating memorabilia as proof. The
River Ranch was the hot spot during the 1960 Olympics. Now it’s a must for
Alpine or neighboring Squaw Valley skiers, the resort rivalry makes for great
banter over beers, hanging out over the rushing river.
next stop was Heavenly, truly. The queen of the South Shore, Heavenly is the
largest and highest resort at Tahoe, with 4,800-acres of skiing from California
to Nevada. We expected Heavenly would be scenic and sizeable, with 30 lifts and
four separate bases in two states. Sure enough, as we skied from the 10,040-foot
summit, the sapphire hue of Lake Tahoe was an omnipresent optical oasis.
What surprised us was the unbelievable tree skiing at Heavenly. When you tire of
Lake views, blue sky, and blue square cruising, you can cash in on
the snowy caches of glades. I can see why Glen Plake took the “job” as
Heavenly’s “Ski E.O.”
Vail Resorts purchased
Heavenly in 2002 and has been upgrading the lifts
and grooming ever since, building three new on-mountain lodges poised
with Lake views. The Gunbarrel Grill is the place to lunch overlooking
the Lake 2,000-feet below.
Heavenly’s South Shore at the gondola base
is like “vertical Vegas"– with casinos, chain hotels, and clubs so you can
après ski Tahoe style - dine, roll
the dice, drink and dance at 100 bars, .”
35-miles south of Heavenly is
Kirkwood, on Tahoe’s map with the highest base elevation affording it the
deepest, driest snow. Kirkwood’s location and double black diamond terrain thins
out the crowds. Kirkwood is known amongst experts for serious steep and deep
including the legendary “Wall.” Kirkwood has ample lower mountain terrain to
lure families to the 2,300-acre ski area.
saved mighty Squaw Valley for
last, the king of the western shore of Tahoe. This legendary resort retains its
history (the world’s first double chair in 1949) and international flavor, still
brandishing the 1960 Olympic cauldron, rings and flags throughout the
European-style ski village. Lake Tahoe may host the 2022 Winter Olympics,
sharing the ski and snowboard venues among the Tahoe ski resorts.
Squaw's 8,200-foot High Camp
offers an Olympic ice skating
rink, heated pool, hot tub and huge lodge overlooking the slopes and of course,
the ever blue and beautiful Lake Tahoe.
Squaw has something for everyone; swift lifts like the Funitel and Cable Car
emanate from the Village to mid-mountain where the tamest terrain is located –
ideal for learning families, and the Shirley Lake six-passenger lift. Experts will have a field day dropping into Squaw’s chutes,
cornices and cliffs (featured in all the best ski films) from summit lifts
Headwall, Granite Chief, and the famous KT-22 – so called because it takes twenty-two kick
turns to ski the face.
only thing you won’t find at Squaw are trail names, each area amid the
4,000-acres is designated by its lift name and a green, blue or black diamond
rating (though Squaw plans to name the 200 plus runs in their 5 year $50 million
master plan). Squaw offers night skiing
– but the Village is equally enticing with boutiques, pubs and restaurants from
Irish pubs to Swiss Fondue, and a sushi bar.
Located just steps from the Cable Car, we lodged at the
PlumpJack Squaw Valley Inn,
a lovely property with a fun and funky decor owned by the former mayor of San Francisco.
Plumpjack is the best place for après ski
at the fireside bar, for a delicious dinner overlooking the steamy outdoor hot
tubs, and the best skiers’ breakfast in all of Squaw Valley.
tour of Tahoe revealed that each resort is unique, and worth several days
exploration. In fact, you could happily stay at Squaw, Heavenly, or Northstar as
one vertical vacation spot. And there are a dozen other ski areas we didn’t even
hit – so we obviously have to go back. I didn’t quite get my fill of west coast
sun and Sierra size snow.
Tips to ski Tahoe
Tahoe is getting serious snow right now, so go now to extend your ski season,
and transition from turtleneck to t-shirt tan. April vacation week should be
Fly into Reno or Sacramento airport, and rent a 4WD vehicle, The Tahoe Basin is
legendary for large snow dumps (up to 600-inches annually) and you want to be
able to make it to the mountains in snowy road conditions.
Travel clockwise around Lake Tahoe (72-miles total) affording uninterrupted
views of the brilliant blue water.
Drink lots of H2O, the arid western climate and the altitude are dehydrating.
Tahoe, meaning “lake of the sky” in Native American, is 6,200-feet above sea
level, one of the deepest lakes in world at 1,645-feet, so it never freezes and
retains its alluring blue hue.
Keep sunscreen and sunglasses on hand, and dress in layers, ready to shed.