White powder, the drug of choice for many is coming in truck loads to California. No, I’m not talking literal trucks coming from the south. Trucks in the form of storm fronts bringing that beautiful, white, fluffy, powdery snow to the mountains of Tahoe. While there have been dangerous blizzard conditions, travel warnings and road closures, that will soon end. When the I80 and other major roads leading into the Tahoe area re-open you are going to want to get your butt to the mountains stat. Or at least this season right? If you’re new to the area (as who wants to ski in a drought?) how do you know which Tahoe Ski Resorts to ski and snowboard at?
I’m here to help you, a beginner to the region decide which Tahoe Ski Resorts fit your needs this season.
Let’s start with the real basics. As you might be asking, where even is Tahoe? Lake Tahoe is sliced down the middle by the California/Nevada border, around 200 miles (320 km) North East of San Francisco and 37 miles (60 km) South West of Reno depending on where in Tahoe you visit. It is the third deepest lake in the North America and is 22 miles (35 km) long by 12 miles (19 km) wide. The average elevation is at lake level is 6200 feet (1900 m). To put that into perspective, Australia’s highest peak is only 300 m higher at 2200 m.
Now, we’ll firstly break Tahoe into three sectors. The North Lake, South Lake and Truckee area.
North Lake Tahoe
I am biased. I lived in Tahoe City when I was in Tahoe and I enjoyed everything about it. If you choose to stay in North Lake Tahoe you will be between West Lake Tahoe, Tahoe City through to Kings Beach and Incline Village.
I love this area because it has such a small town, local vibe. While you may not experience this on your holiday you will notice the smaller intimate bars, lack of chain restaurants and no big hotel chains. Instead stay in a log cabin in the woods, befriend the local sitting next to you at the bar and support local businesses. If you stay in West Lake Tahoe or Tahoe City, the bets places to ski are Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows combined resort and Homewood. If you are in Kings Beach or Incline Village your closest resorts are Northstar, Mount Rose and Diamond Peak.
These guys are one of the major players in the resort game. There is a shuttle between the two mountains and total skiable terrain covers over a whopping 6000 acres. Ok, so obviously you could google these facts. Here’s my personal opinion. If you want a huge variety of runs to choose from with access to lots of intermediate, advanced and expert terrain go to Squaw/Alpine. The cons, however, is those fresh tracks only last an hour if you don’t know the mountain to find the hidden ones. I hope you’re ready to wake up before the crack of dawn on a powder day, that line for KT-22 will be around the funitel before most people are having their first sip of coffee.
Although, after an amazing ski school? Squaw Kids is your number 1 pick (cough cough.. That’s where I used to work), but really, they are amazing. Small class sizes and incredible, loving instructors.
Homewood matches the small town vibes that the North Lake area offers. Although small, you will never be bored. At also the closest mountain to the Lake, it will appear you are skiing right into it. Stunning views and stunning ticket prices to match. You can ski here for under $50 a day! There’s also a high chance you’ll score some powder pockets later in the day.
Another of the major ski areas, Northstar is owned by Vail resorts. So if you have a pass to one of the many Vail resorts scattered around the world this may be your stop. Great beginner terrain which isn’t overly steep. You’ll also find lots of family-friendly activities and events at the base of the hill.
I love mount Rose and I’m sure you will too. This is the closest resort to Reno, so you have the option of finding some cheaper accommodation down there. However, the road is quite sketchy and I wouldn’t recommend it with lots of snow to inexperienced snow drivers. Lots of fun chutes for the more adventurous of you. Plus beginner friendly terrain to drop off the family members holding you back.
Another small town-feel resort, similar to Homewood. Diamond Peak is not as suited to the absolute beginner with only one green run. Ski here if you are an intermediate + skier looking to increase the difficulty of your runs without the pressure of the hardcore riders rushing past beside you.
South Lake Tahoe
Are you after more than just skiing and snowboarding on your holiday? Stay in Nevada’s Stateline in one of the four large casinos. You have concerts, shows, a plethora of bars and of course gaming machines to keep you occupied while the mountains are closed. South Lake offers more variety in dining and shopping options. Being a larger area than the North Lake, you can find some great accommodation deals. The region backs onto the base of Heavenly Ski Resort, with their gondola easily accessible in the village. The other options for your days riding include Kirkwood and Sierra-At-Tahoe.
The third and final large resort in the Tahoe area, Heavenly. Another of the Vail Resorts, make sure you know what your season pass allows you access to. One of the cool things here is you can check off skiing or snowboarding across a state border. Take a photo at the signposted border on the mountain. Heavenly has extensive terrain for all abilities which includes many fun, long groomers.
Ahhh Kirkwood.. Skiing here is as backcountry as you can get while still being inbounds. Think tree runs, rugged terrain and untracked turns. Do you want your runs black and strong like your coffee? Then Kirkwood is for you. Also part of the Vail Resorts empire. Strangely you can buy a three-day pass to Heavenly and you can also ski Kirkwood, but not the other way round.
When trying to distinguish themselves in a sea of resorts, Sierra has taken on the class clown persona. They want to be the cool kids on the block. Here you’ll find lessons focused on having the most fun possible within a huge 11-acre beginner area. Family-friendly with a tubing and sledding area for the non-skiers.
The historical town of Truckee is located along Interstate 80, 18 miles (29 km) north of Tahoe City. This is where you’ll find a lot of the long term locals living and less of the season goers. You’ll find it easy to get here whether travelling from the Bay area or the Reno side. From here you are able to access Squaw/Alpine and Northstar just as easily as from North Lake Tahoe. Plus a few other options, Sugar Bowl and the smaller Boreal, Tahoe Donner, and Donner Ski Ranch.
Fuunnn! That’s what you’ll be thinking all day when riding at Sugar Bowl. There is terrain suitable for all abilities with Christmas and Disney named runs and chairlifts. Isn’t it fun to say you rode down Donald Duck and Blitzen? For the expert skiers out there, you have a face of palisades to really test your nerves.
There’s no driving down sketchy long resort roads to reach Boreal. You’ll see her roadside as you’re driving along the I80. Although Boreal is only a small resort, it packs a punch when it comes to the park. If learning to ride or improve in the terrain park this is your resort. You can also check out the Woodward indoor foam pit at the base of the hill to really fine-tune those park moves.
Located within a homeowners society, Tahoe Donner has a small ski hill accessible to the public. There is a good mix of beginner to advanced runs, perfect to take the family for a half day of skiing. In the afternoon, why not explore the town of Truckee or make the most of other public activities in the homeowner’s area.
An intimate, friendly resort with access to long groomed beginner runs. Perfect if you want to take the littlies and ski with them for the day. The front side of the mountain is great to let the kids feel like they are skiing on their own while you’re secretly watching from the lodge below. Maybe with an apre or two in hand.