How To Choose The Best Lake Tahoe Ski Resort: A Resort Breakdown
Updated on January 18th, 2020
White powder, the drug of choice for many is coming in truckloads 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 Lake Tahoe this winter. Now, let’s not miss out on this and find you the best Lake Tahoe ski resort for your needs.
Notices of dangerous blizzards, travel warnings and road closures are ripe. 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?
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In a hurry? Top ski destinations summed up
|The Best Lake Tahoe Ski Resort for:||Resort|
|Beginners||Homewood, Sierra-at-Tahoe, Alpine Meadows, Heavenly|
|Budget-friendly||Homewood, Boreal, Mount Rose|
|Low snowfall years||Mount Rose, Sugarbowl, Kirkwood, Squaw Valley|
|Fewer crowds||Kirkwood, Homewood, Alpine Meadows|
|Terrain parks||Northstar, Boreal|
|Views||Heavenly, Homewood, Diamond Peak|
|Diversity and challenging slopes||Squaw Valley, Kirkwood, Diamond Peak|
|Hikable terrain||Alpine Meadows, Kirkwood|
|Apres ski scene||Squaw Valley, Northstar|
Where is Lake Tahoe?
Let’s start with the real basics. As you might be asking, where even is Lake Tahoe? Tahoe is in the USA and the lake is sliced down the middle by the California/Nevada border. It is around 200 miles (320 km) northeast of San Francisco and 37 miles (60 km) southwest of Reno, depending on where in Tahoe you visit.
Fun facts: Tahoe is the third deepest lake in 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.
Why visit Lake Tahoe?
As you can see from the map above, the Tahoe region has 13 ski resorts around its perimeter. Not only will you be spoilt for option, but each resort has its own special features which make them a standout for a particular crowd. I love skiing and have skied all around the world, yet Tahoe is my favourite.
Another reason I love skiing in Tahoe is for the weather. It’s not unusual to ski in sunshine most of the winter. Plus, that California location really makes the winters much milder – without compromising on snow quality.
Then, you have the beauty. When I lived in Tahoe over 4 winter seasons, there wasn’t a day that went by where I wasn’t taken aback by the natural surrounding. Many mornings on the way to work I would have to stop for photo breaks of the sunrise over the lake. Because of the extra sunshine here expect many days where the snow is glittering up at you. Just when you think it can’t get any better, you experience Tahoe in summer. Wow!
Finally, it’s fun! The Lake Tahoe ski resorts bring in hundreds of thousands of visitors every winter. Because of this, you will find something going on every night. Whether at the bars, special events or concerts.
North Lake Tahoe Ski Resorts
Now, I may be a little biased. I lived in Tahoe City on multiple work and holiday visas to the US between my time working at ski resorts in Australia. This 4 year period holds some of my favourite memories and I loved every moment of it. So although I personally love north Lake Tahoe, I will do my best to give you a fair review of each area. Although if I’m being 100% honest, north lake Tahoe is the best! 😉
The North Lake Tahoe area comprises of the ski resorts north of Homewood and up to Truckee.
I love this area because it has such a small town, local vibe. While you may not experience this on a short holiday you will notice the smaller intimate bars, lack of chain restaurants and only a few large hotels.
Instead, you’ll stay in a log cabin in the woods, befriend the local sitting next to you at the bar and support local businesses.
Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows
In recent years, Squaw Valley bought out Alpine Meadows. This means that for one lift pass the total skiable area covers over 6000 acres! These guys are one of the major players in the ski resort game. There is a shuttle connecting the two mountains and plans to connect via ski lifts.
Ok, so obviously you could google these facts. Here’s my personal opinion. This is the top Tahoe ski destination if you want a huge variety of runs and terrain with access to lots of intermediate, advanced and expert terrain.
The cons, however, are those fresh tracks only last an hour on a powder day and morning queues can be over an hour-long before the lifts even open. If you must ski at Squaw on a powder day, grab yourself a lesson so you can enter the ski school line and be shown where the hidden powder staches are.
I also think Squaw/Alpine has the best kids ski school. If you are after an amazing ski school for the kids? Squaw Kids is your number 1 pick (cough cough.. That’s where I used to work), but really, they are amazing. I have taught skiing at a few resorts and Squaw Kids is hands down my favourite. They have small class sizes, a fun schedule, great training for instructors and these instructors love their jobs and the kids they teach.
Where to stay when skiing at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows
The easiest option for getting to the mountain each day is to obviously stay in the villages of each resort.
Squaw Valley has a large ski village with plenty of options depending on the style of accommodation and budget. With restaurants and bars nearby.
The base of Alpine Meadows is much smaller and doesn’t have any hotels, restaurants or bars open at night. There is accommodation here in the form of Airbnbs and other holiday houses. However, bear in mind it is isolated. It would be highly recommended to have a car where you can get groceries and other items during your stay.
The third option is to stay in or near Tahoe City. The drive to the mountains each day will take around 30 minutes or there is a bus (allow 1 hour during heavy snow). Tahoe City has bars, restaurants and supermarkets and is right on the lake.
Homewood ski resort matches the small town vibes that the North Lake area offers. It is the closest mountain to the lake, so close it will appear you are skiing right into it. All 67 runs have breathtaking lake views.
Homewood is great for stunning views and affordable ticket prices. A lift ticket online will set you back $64/day (2019/2020 season). Which is significantly cheaper than most of the other resorts. There’s also a high chance you’ll score some hidden powder pockets days after a storm has hit.
The cons of Homewood however, is its size. Although perfect for a couple of days, those who are more advanced will start to get a bit bored. Best suited for the beginner to intermediate skier or rider.
Where to stay when skiing at Homewood
Directly across the road from Homewood is the West Shore Cafe and Inn. Also, it’s just a 10-minute drive from Tahoe City if you prefer to stay close to shops and nightlife. Take a look at Airbnb* for cute cabin style homes around the area.
*Use the link above to get $55 AUD off your first Airbnb booking.
Another of the large major ski areas, Northstar is owned by the Vail resorts corporation. If you have a pass to one of the many Vail resorts scattered around the world this could just be the spot for you.
Northstar is the most suitable for families and has a large selection of beginner-intermediate skiable terrain (73%). There are many family-friendly activities and events throughout the winter. Plus, voted the #2 Best Terrain Park in North America by TransWorld Snowboarding with 8 terrain parks and 3 half pipes.
You’ll have no reason to leave the Northstar village, with everything you need during your trip only a short stroll away. The resort even provides wagons so you don’t have to carry anything!
The cons to Northstar is the lower base and peak elevations. During a smaller year of snowfall, Northstar tends to have less snow than other resorts and will melt earlier at the end of the season. For the more advanced riders, you may get a little sick of the long flat groomers and crave something a little more challenging.
Where to stay when skiing at Northstar
I personally would stay int he Northstar village. Multiple style accommodation options to suit varying budgets with everything within arms reach. Northstar may just be the best family-friendly resort in the Lake Tahoe area, so why complicate things by having to drive to the mountain each day.
I love mount Rose and I’m sure you will too. Mount Rose is a small resort on the Nevada side of the lake and offers lots of fun chutes for the more adventurous of you. Plus beginner-friendly terrain to drop off the family members holding you back.
Mount Rose has the highest base elevation which makes it the greatest Tahoe resort for a year with lower levels of snowfall and late-season skiing. Located as the closest ski resort to Reno and just 25 minutes from the Tahoe Reno International Airport. You’ll be able to get on the slopes the same day that you fly in and find cheaper accommodation in the city. Making it perfect for the budget ski holiday.
The biggest con is the Mount Rose Highway. Only drive this road if you are confident driving in snow, have snow tires fitted and chains on hand. This road gets a lot of snowfall and is prone to black ice.
Where to stay when skiing at Mount Rose
Can’t quite justify the expense of a ski holiday? This is the closest resort to Reno, so you have the option of finding some cheaper accommodation in the city! Yay! Reno has no shortage of casinos, restaurants, bars and shopping to keep even the non-skiers happy.
Another of the smaller ski resorts, Diamond Peak is located near Incline Village in Nevada. Forget about crowds and support the local community-run ski resort.
Don’t be fooled into thinking the size of the resort makes it best for the beginners out there. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Diamond Peak is the top Lake Tahoe resort for uncrowded intermediate to advanced skiing. Find out exactly what makes Diamond Peak a resort for the fearless here.
Another benefit of the Diamond Peak ski area is its proximity to the Crystal Bay casinos. Throughout the year the casinos host both local and well-known acts and are a good place to spend New Years or other events.
Where to stay when skiing at Diamond Peak
The official accommodation partner of Diamond Peak is the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe. Situated lakeside in Incline Village and offering a daily shuttle running every 30 minutes to and from the resort.
South Lake Tahoe Ski Resorts
If you are you after an all-round ski holiday, inclusive of the large events, gigs and shopping than South Lake Tahoe may be more suited for you. Nevada’s Stateline in South Lake Tahoe has four large casinos which host nightly shows, concerts, a plethora of bars and of course gaming machines to keep you occupied once the sun goes down.
South Lake Tahoe has more variety in dining and shopping options than it’s North Lake counterpart with food and dining chain stores at the lake level. The region backs onto the base of Heavenly Ski Resort, with their gondola easily accessible in the village.
The third and final large resort in the Tahoe area is Heavenly Mountain Resort. You can grab a combined Epic pass to access Heavenly and other resorts owned by the Vail resorts corporation.
One of the cool things about Heavenly is you can check off skiing or snowboarding across a state border. Make sure you take a photo at the signposted border on the mountain. Heavenly is a great resort for those who want to be based near excellent nightlife and love long fast groomers.
If you’re like my boyfriend and like going fast then you will love this resort. There are lots of long, fast groomed trails here. The biggest downside to Heavenly is there are quite a few long traverses. Which if you’re a skier is fine, however for you snowboarders out there, make sure you remember which routes to take to avoid getting stuck.
Heavenly is also a great resort for beginner skiers and boarders. With designated beginner areas and easy to understand progressive slopes.
Where to stay when skiing at Heavenly
Stay at the base of the mountain anywhere in South Lake Tahoe. There are multiple bus lines along the lake which will take you to the village at the base of the mountain each day. Or stay in the casino’s at Stateline to be closest to the bars and clubs.
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 like your turns black and strong like your coffee? Then the best place for you to ski is at Kirkwood. Also, another resort which is part of the Vail Resorts empire, so you can spend a couple of days here and a couple at Heavenly. At the time of writing, you could buy a three-day pass to Heavenly which allows you to ski Kirkwood, but not the other way round.
Kirkwood is 40 minutes or more from South Lake Tahoe, which means it doesn’t get the crowds the other resorts do. In pay off for your drive out there be rewarded with all-day powder turns. There isn’t much to not love about Kirkwood other than its isolation.
Where to stay when skiing at Kirkwood
You can either make the daily drive from South Lake Tahoe, bearing in mind longer drive times in snowy weather or stay at the mountain. As well as the Kirkwood website, Airbnb has around 100 listings nearby.
Sierra at Tahoe
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. You’ll find lessons focused on having the most fun possible with a family-friendly tubing and sledding area for the non-skiers.
Sierra at Tahoe is a great choice for beginners with their huge 11-acre designated beginner area and for people making day trips from the Bay Area. Following the US-50 Sierra at Tahoe is just 176 miles from San Francisco.
Where to stay when skiing at Sierra-at-Tahoe
The two options for your ski trip to Sierra-at-Tahoe is to stay in South Lake Tahoe, which is a 25-minute drive to the resort. Or stay in an Airbnb or similar closer to the slopes.
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 younger crowd.
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 themed runs and lifts to keep the kids happy. They’ll love telling you how they skied down Donald Duck and Blitzen at the end of the day. For the expert skiers out there, you have a face of palisades to really test your nerves.
Sugar Bowl is the best for you if you love supporting family-owned businesses but don’t want to sacrifice on terrain quality. It’s a great family-friendly resort, has over 1600 skiable acres and 12 lifts including 1 gondola.
Where to stay when skiing Sugar Bowl
Sugar Bowl has its own European inspired hotel at the base of the slopes which is a great place to base yourself. Hotel guests have access to the Sporthaus which is a complete wellness and fitness centre. The other option is to stay in Truckee and drive the 20 minutes to the slopes each day or take the bus.
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.
Boreal is awesome for people who take their park training seriously. Woodward sits at the base of the resort and is an indoor action playground. Practice new park skills on the trampolines and foam pit before taking them out on the snow. This is also the place where you will find some of the best freestyle coaches in the Lake Tahoe region.
Where to stay when skiing at Boreal
The best place to stay is in Truckee, just 10 miles from the resort. As the resort is located on the I80, you can expect to drive on freshly cleared roads most mornings.
Other small ski slopes to consider:
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.
Donner Ski Ranch
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 apres or two in hand.