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Monday, January 5, 2015

A Guide to Lake Tahoe's Area Ski Resorts

By: Claire Botsy

168494_547337891417_4155390_n.jpgThis is an all-purpose guide to the many resorts that surround the beautiful Lake Tahoe. The resorts range from single-chair lift hills to multi-peak resorts with everything you could ask for. Since things like customer service and ski schools are hard to gauge and are fairly dynamic even on a day to day basis and also depend on how ‘needy’ of a patron you are, we will not take those facets into consideration. The factors taken into consideration that differentiate these resorts are size, terrain, facilities and proximity to civilization.

All of these resorts will be at least $100 for a day lift ticket. They also all have ski schools, rental shops, lodges, and a vast amount of terrain. These will have several food options on the mountain, at the base, and in the neighborhood.

  • Northstar - All the facilities a ski resort is expected to have, complete with high-end shopping and dining in the expansive village at the base of the mountain. This mountain is good for everyone though, some say the terrain is flat, I say you just need to know where to go. A great park with a dedicated lift for park laps and there’s even cross country skiing and a biathlon course.
  • Heavenly - A sister resort to Northstar, it sits on the other end of the lake right in the heart of South Lake Tahoe’s casinos. If you want to be able to go out after a day on the slopes this is the place for it. The terrain is decent and there are great views. 
  • Squaw Valley - The Winter Olympics were held here in 1960 so you can imagine that it is truly outfitted with everything and they have kept up with the times. It can be confusing for first-timers and some of the terrain requires pretty advanced skills so it suits those who have been riding for a while at least.
  • Alpine Meadows - Some of the best terrain around the lake, complete with gullies, cliffs and awesome tree riding. Since it has merged with Squaw Valley they now boast one of the biggest lays of land in the area, since individually they were already revered by locals as favorites.
  • Sugar Bowl - One of the first resorts you encounter when driving up from the West, and largely overlooked in my opinion. Sugar Bowl is not an exaggeration, this resort has great terrain to explore and bowls to ride, on par with Alpine and Squaw. If you can’t get away during the week to find short lift lines elsewhere, you can always find shorter lines at Sugar Bowl, even on weekends. Steep runs and powder are the norm. A bit more low key than the other North Lake resorts, but there’s decent food and bars around.
  • Kirkwood - With relatively easy access from Sacramento it offers great terrain close to the Bay Area. Though it is considered to be South Lake, it is way south, quite far from the casinos and any semblance of night life. This place has been blessed with powder since the dawn of ski resorts and in that respect, never disappoints.

These resorts vary in the services offered, but most have rental shops and a ski school on site. Food and drink options are usually minimal, but available. They all have something to offer though against the big guys though.

  • Mount Rose - As the closest resort to Reno, Mt. Rose is a great option if you’re staying in the city. Reno is a seedy city of sorts, but can also be good fun for shows and going out. It is a medium sized resort with a definite small-town vibe that lets you ride without feeling like you’re being judged. The 8 lifts lead you to mostly advanced terrain, so you won’t find too many first-timers here unless you want to learn fast.
  • Diamond Peak - Located in Incline Village, Nevada near the smaller and less polished resorts of the North Shore lies Diamond Peak, which holds its own against the large resorts. This place is known for its views and as a good place for kids and beginners. Diamond Peak gets a good amount of powder and has some great tree runs, just not a vast expanse of terrain.
  • Donner Ski Ranch - A kids’ and beginners’ haven. Just across the street from Sugar Bowl, it offers a great opportunity to get your bearings if you have never been on snow before.
  • Homewood - If you want to feel like you are about to ride into the lake this is the place to go. Near Alpine Meadows, it sits on the West side of the lake and pretty much has the best views of the lake from any resort. It’s a small resort, but this is where the locals go for powder, trees and a cruisy day on the slopes away from tourists.
  • Sierra - One of the larger resorts in this section, but still homely, Sierra has park, trees, powder and the facilities of a larger resort. Known for spotty coverage though, so don’t bring any expensive equipment.  Maybe it’s because they don’t have to deal with hordes of people, but the workers always seem happier here.  
  • Boreal - A park rider’s paradise. Boreal is known for having one of the best park staffs around, they change things up almost daily, and you can do park laps  9 AM to 9 PM with night riding available. You can see it from the highway, but what you see is pretty much what you get. They are usually one of the first open, but don’t expect much more than a few boxes and rails. Cheap passes and even cheaper if you commit early, Boreal is great if you want to nail down some tricks.