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Lake Tahoe's Resorts Offer Endless Tantalizing Terrain for Skiers and Snowboarders

By Charlie Johnston 

Just about every cliché in the lodge has been thrown at the collection of downhill ski resorts that populate the Lake Tahoe region. And try as they might, none of the fawning descriptions even come close to doing them justice. So let’s just stick to the facts: more than 25,000 skiable acres, peak elevations above 10,000 feet, up to 3,500 vertical feet of drop at some resorts, nearly 1,000 designated trails, almost 200 chairlifts, and an average of 42 feet of snow—more than 63 feet fell at some locations in the 2010-11 season. Spend a winter at Lake Tahoe, and you’re going to become really good at waxing skis and snowboards.

Alpine Meadows

One of the best skiing and snowboarding bargains in the Lake Tahoe region, Alpine Meadows has acreage to compete with the big boys, prices that challenge the smaller resorts, and snow conditions that are often identical to its world-famous neighbor and partner, Squaw Valley USA.

The predominantly north- and east-facing slopes and bowls of Alpine’s “Frontside” are protected from melting sunlight and ice-encouraging winds, giving fluffy powder the chance to hold on for days at a time, and the southeast-facing “Backside” offers unobstructed views of Lake Tahoe less than four miles away.

Season passes at Alpine Meadows offer unique options that do away with blackout dates (busy times around holidays during which season passes aren’t typically honored) and include access to Homewood Mountain Resort, Kirkwood Mountain Resort, and Durango and Red Lodge Mountain Resorts in Colorado and Montana, respectively.

In a merger announced earlier this year, Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley USA have combined operations to create the largest ski resort—6,400 acres—in the country. There are no plans to change either’s name, and resort executives say each will maintain its individual character.

CONTACT
Alpine Meadows
2600 Alpine Meadows Rd., Tahoe City, CA 96145
skialpine.com
530-583-4232

Boreal Mountain Resort

If the word “McTwist” conjures images of halfpipes instead of golden arches, Boreal Mountain Resort has the slopes to fit your style. What the 480-acre resort near Interstate 80’s Donner Summit lacks in size, it makes up for with big-air-encouraging freestyle terrain that includes jumps, parks, and pipes.

To up the snowboarder-favored resort’s cool quotient, Boreal offers night riding until 9 p.m. from three lifts and in the Core (terrain) Park. The Playland Tubing area is a fun change of pace for the whole family and is also open at night on Fridays, Saturdays, and holidays.

CONTACT
Boreal Mountain Resort
PO Box 39, Truckee, CA 96160
rideboreal.com
530-426-3666

Diamond Peak Ski Resort

Snow worshipers have flocked to the slopes of Diamond Peak Ski Resort since November 1966, when its precursor, Ski Incline, first opened. A lot has changed in more than four decades. In the last three years alone, the 655-acre, family-oriented resort has spent $8.5 million renovating its base lodge, constructing a new Skier Services Building, and updating its snowmaking system.

Improvements at the lodge include an expanded rental shop, an additional 300 square feet of outdoor decking, new restrooms, and a new meeting room, while the aforementioned Skier Services Building houses the resort’s two ski schools and features new ticket windows and restrooms.

Its proximity to Reno, outstanding views of Lake Tahoe, and some of the most affordable lift tickets in the region make Diamond Peak a locals’ favorite.

CONTACT
Diamond Peak Ski Resort
1210 Ski Way, Incline Village, NV 89451
diamondpeak.com
775-832-1177

Donner Ski Ranch

Opened in 1937 with a simple rope tow to transport skiers, Donner Ski Ranch was one of the first ski resorts in California. Today, the mountain is among the state’s last family owned and operated resorts, lending to a friendly down-home atmosphere. Following record-breaking snowfall in the northern Sierra for the 2010-11 season, Donner Ski Ranch ran the region’s last chairlift of the season at 3:15 p.m. on July 10.

CONTACT
Donner Ski Ranch
19320 Donner Pass Rd., Norden, CA 95724
donnerskiranch.com
530-426-3635

Granlibakken Ski and Snowboard Hill

With the veneration given to high peaks and vast mountains in the skiing world, it’s easy to believe that bigger is better, right? Not necessarily. Enter Granlibakken on Lake Tahoe’s west shore. The tiny 10-acre, two-lift resort redefines intimate on a handful of easy to moderate slopes. If the mini mountain’s diminutive crowds are still too much, the whole hill can be rented for $750 a day. Granlibakken’s convenient access to popular trailheads makes it a favorite among cross-country skiers and snowshoers.

As part of Granlibakken’s commitment to health and wellness, the annual Lake Tahoe Women’s Wellness Weekend—a long-standing community event previously coordinated by the Truckee Forest Hospital—will be hosted by Granlibakken on November 12-13. The event fuses Eastern tradition with Western practices to offer clinics on skin screenings; body/muscle testing; inspirational and informative seminars on health, nutrition, and aging; food and wine; and recreational activities.

CONTACT
Granlibakken Conference Center & Lodge
725 Granlibakken Rd., Tahoe City, CA 96145
granlibakken.com
530-583-4242

Heavenly Mountain Resort

Big doesn’t begin to describe Heavenly Mountain Resort. The behemoth mountain spans two states, encompasses 4,800 acres, and is among the largest ski resorts in the United States—ensuring guests miles and miles of new terrain for each visit. Add breathtaking views of Lake Tahoe from many of its runs, and it’s little wonder that Heavenly is also one of Reno-Tahoe’s most popular resorts.
Most of the resort can be conveniently reached from South Lake Tahoe’s Heavenly Village via the Heavenly Gondola, which non-skiers can also ride for a bird’s-eye view of the lake. The new 14,720-square-foot Tamarack Lodge opened last year at the top of the gondola, joining the resort’s four other lodges and bringing dining options to rival the best on-mountain restaurants in the skiing world.

Before heading up to explore the mountain, skiers and boarders can cruise the village for the latest winter fashions—or, after a day on the slopes, visitors can search the village’s shops for souvenirs, après ski cuisine, and cocktails or practice their triple Lutz on the south shore’s only ice-skating rink. New this year is Heavenly Holiday, a nightly synchronized light show, December 1-30.

CONTACT
Heavenly Mountain Resort
3860 Saddle Rd., South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150
skiheavenly.com
775-586-7000

Homewood Mountain Resort

Only one ski resort at Lake Tahoe boasts lake views from every run, and at Homewood Mountain Resort, those views are so close it feels like you might ski right into the water. The resort’s main lodge is steps from the lake’s west shore, making the cobalt beauty the dominant feature from almost any vantage.

Homewood Mountain Resort’s 1,260 acres are accessed from two lodges, each with a patio, dining options, and bar. The Mid Mountain Pavilion near the top of the Madden Chairlift is open weekends and offers one of the resort’s most stunning views of the famous lake.

Skiers and boarders can save by purchasing Homewood lift tickets online, and local Tahoe Truckee School District honor-roll students are rewarded for their hard work with free lift tickets.

CONTACT
Homewood Mountain Resort
5145 West Lake Blvd., Homewood, CA 96141
skihomewood.com
530-525-2992

Kirkwood Mountain Resort

Powder hounds and daredevils flock to Kirkwood Mountain Resort, 30 minutes south of Lake Tahoe, for feathery soft snow and hair-raisingly steep corniced cliffs. The mountain’s location on the western side of the Pacific Crest means many snowstorms reach it faster and linger longer than at most resorts in the area, resulting in what is often the most plentiful snow of any resort.

While most resorts classify their runs as beginner, intermediate, or advanced, Kirkwood adds expert classification for 15 percent of its slopes and has the highest-angle groomed runs in the Tahoe region. Less experienced skiers and boarders needn’t worry, though; the mountain has an equal number of beginner trails, and roughly half the terrain is designated intermediate. The new facility Kirkwood Outfitters offers special clinics.

CONTACT
Kirkwood Mountain Resort
1501 Kirkwood Meadows Dr., Kirkwood, CA 95646
kirkwood.com
209-258-6000

Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe

Renoites have been skiing in the wilderness around Mount Rose and Slide Mountain since the 1930s. Sky Tavern capitalized on the pastime in ’41, Reno Ski Bowl—better known as the Slide Bowl of Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe since the resorts merged in the ’80s—opened in ’53, and Mount Rose Ski Area started operations in ’64. And if such longevity doesn’t prove Rose is doing something right, the daily hordes of eager skiers and snowboarders do.

Lake Tahoe’s highest base elevation—8,260 feet—means fluffy dry powder that begs for sunrise first tracks, and the north-facing experts-only Chutes (nine gates to choose from) provide rebellious runs that reach angles as steep as 55 degrees.

The environmentally friendly wind-powered Winters Creek Lodge, opened in 2009 at the base of the Slide Bowl, offers dramatic views of Washoe Valley, and the mountain and is available year-round for private functions.

CONTACT
Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe
22222 Mt. Rose Hwy., Reno, NV 89511
skirose.com
775-849-0704

Northstar-at-Tahoe Resort

One of the region’s most popular ski resorts is (no surprise) also one of its most conveniently located, about 35 miles from Reno and South Lake Tahoe, respectively, and six miles from Truckee, California. North Lake Tahoe’s largest snowmaking system covers half the resort, ensuring plenty of snow even on the rare occasions when the weather doesn’t cooperate.

A new chairlift on Northstar’s “Backside” provides access to new terrain and trails for the 2011-12 season, and a new restaurant near the top of the Tahoe Zephyr Express chairlift adds to the resort’s already impressive list of dining options.

Off the slopes, the Village at Northstar offers a multitude of shops and restaurants and is home to one of only a handful of ice-skating rinks in the region. The 2011-12 ski season brings new restaurants and more shops to the village. The Village is preparing to open two new national retail outlets—Patagonia and Burton.

CONTACT
Northstar-at-Tahoe Resort
100 Northstar Dr., Truckee, CA 96161
northstarattahoe.com
530-562-1010

Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort

Sierra-at-Tahoe was one of South Lake Tahoe’s first resorts when Vern Sprock opened it as Sierra Ski Ranch in 1946. Expansions, a move further up U.S. Highway 50 toward Echo Summit, and new ownership in the ’90s brought the resort into the 21st century as one of the south shore’s largest, most highly regarded resorts.

Sierra’s expert-only terrain in and around Huckleberry Canyon was recently opened to provide experienced skiers and riders with all the cliffs, cornices, and rock chutes their fanatical hearts desire, and free guided tours (you still have to buy a lift ticket, of course) of the canyon ensure that safety is kept at the forefront of backcountry adventures.

CONTACT
Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort
1111 Sierra at Tahoe Rd., Twin Bridges, CA 95735
sierraattahoe.com
530-659-7453

Squaw Valley USA

When people think of Lake Tahoe skiing and snowboarding, one of the first resorts that invariably comes to mind is Squaw Valley USA. The host of the 1960 Olympic Winter Games is a titan among resorts around the world. And with 4,000 skiable acres, more than 170 trails, 30 chairlifts, and a storied and inspiring history, Squaw lives up to the hype.

A lot has changed in the more than 50 years since the world’s eyes were on the north Lake Tahoe mountain. In addition to its gargantuan size, Squaw has become a winter (and summer, by the way) destination, with unique on-mountain offerings and its base community, The Village at Squaw Valley.

A tram accesses High Camp at 8,200 feet, where restaurants and shops join the Olympic Ice Pavilion ice-skating rink and 1960 Olympic Museum. High Camp is also convenient to Squaw’s unique mountaintop beginner terrain, ensuring that first-timers have an escape should one be needed. In the village, almost 300 condominium suites, 20 shops, 16 restaurants, and a full-service spa are just steps from the slopes and provide après ski recreation and relaxing diversions for non-skiers.

CONTACT
Squaw Valley USA
1960 Squaw Valley Rd.,
Olympic Valley, CA 96146
squaw.com
530-583-6985

Tahoe Donner Ski Area

Tahoe Donner Ski Area bills itself as “the best place to begin” because of the resort’s commitment to providing personal attention for novice skiers and snowboarders. The second-smallest ski destination at Lake Tahoe also provides a relaxed, unhurried experience for snow enthusiasts of all skill levels with intermediate and expert runs and a terrain park.

CONTACT
Tahoe Donner Ski Area
11603 Snowpeak Way, Truckee, CA 96161
skitahoedonner.com
530-587-9444

 

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