When the days are short and snow hides the dirt and makes the water of Lake Tahoe WAY to cold for swimming, you do the only thing you can do: Go SKIING!!! There are fourteen ski resorts in and around Lake Tahoe in both California and Nevada. There are thousands of hotel and motel rooms, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a gourmet, or deliciously funky restaurant, and there’s more music, theater, shows, gambling and amenities than you could possibly know what to do with.
But relax. It’s simple. Follow these two steps for the best winter vacation you’ve ever had: 1) go to Lake Tahoe. 2) go skiing! Everything else will come naturally.
Getting to Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is easy to find. If you’re flying (and you don’t have your own helicopter), the closest airport with good service is Reno Tahoe International Airport. All the major carriers fly in there including the beloved Southwest Airlines. From Reno the closest Tahoe ski resort are only 30 minutes away (Mt. Rose and Diamond Peak), and the farthest are barely over an hour. Flying in to Reno also puts you at an advantage as most of the traffic comes in from Sacramento and San Francisco, so tourist congestion is minimal.
From Sacramento or San Francisco take US Hwy 50 East to South Lake Tahoe, California and the casinos at Stateline, Nevada and Heavenly, Kirkwood or Sierra at Tahoe; or take Interstate 80 through Truckee to Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, Donner Ski Ranch, Sugar bowl, Northstar or Homewood. Good weather info can be found at weather.com (http://www.weather.com/weather/local/USCA0584?from=search_city), NOAA.gov (http://www.wrh.noaa.gov/forecast/MapClick.php?site=rev&smap=1&textField1=39.25139&textField2=-119.97194), and snotel (http://www.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov/snotel/California/california.html).
Check traffic and snow conditions before you go at CalTrans(http://www.dot.ca.gov/hq/roadinfo/), NDOT (http://www.nevadadot.com/traveler/roads/) and Magnifeye(http://www.magnifeye.com/).
Tahoe Terrain and Snow
Lake Tahoe is big: 22 miles long and 12 miles wide. Along its 72 miles of shoreline ski conditions can vary from north (Northstar at Tahoe) to south (Kirkwood), so it helps to keep track of the weather and snowfall rates. If you’re into groomers and perfect corduroy, or neck deep powder in the trees, check the snow reports on each resort’s website and hit the one with the most new snow.
Most of the resorts have terrain parks, and usually more than one. Heavenly has several including beginner, intermediate and advanced jumps, rails and boxes for all skiers and snowboarders.
Which resort should you go to? Well that’s complicated. Since everything at Tahoe is totally awesome, it can be challenging to find the right resort for you. The huge resorts, Heavenly, Squaw, and Kirkwood, offer fancy dining, big vertical relief, and incredible on-mountain amenities. The small ones, Homewood, Diamond Peak and Mt. Rose, offer a more low key experience that might be great for beginners or people who want to experience everything Tahoe. Every mountain has its specialties, secret powder stashes and amazing views of the lake.
Though there are some of the best ski and snowboard resorts in the world, there are FAR more mountains to be skied around Tahoe than you can reach at the end of a chair lift ride. Any of the peaks around the Tahoe Basin, however, can be reached at the end of a hike.
Whether by snowshoe, crampon and ice axe or ski tour you can reach endless untracked ridges and couloirs from the Pacific Crest in the Desolation Wilderness on the West shore to the Carson Range above Reno on the east. Many resorts also have hikeable backcountry terrain, like the Milkyway Bowl, at Heavenly which gives you a few more feet of vertical for a little bit of extra effort. Always check for up-to-date avalanche, snowfall and weather forecasts for the entire Tahoe back country area from the Sierra Avalanche Center (http://www.sierraavalanchecenter.org/) before you go out of bounds.
Lifts, Trams and Gondolas
Tahoe is the land of the six-pack high-speed chairlift. We have gondolas, funitels, and trams along with a life time supply of high speed 6 person chairlifts. The resorts here are fully modern with the latest in technology and as rich skiing history, like the old Trams at Heavenly and Squaw Valley. Skiing around Tahoe is a fully modern, fast and fun experience. The astounding uphill capacity at the resorts keeps you skiing with a minimum of down time.
What’s that? You want a little down time? Understandable. Skiing endless top to bottom mogul or powder runs can be tiring. You need a recharge now and then. No worries, no matter where you are at the resorts here you’re never far from a bite to eat. Mid mountain lodges, top of the mountain lodges abound with gourmet dining, and drinking, right off the runs with stellar views of the ski slopes and the lake and no shortage of wine and beer.
Sure, you could sleep in your car at the base of the runs after eating a ski-bum-gourmet meal of saltines and ketchup, but why now live a little? You want be good to yourself; that’s why you’re here.
As a year round vacation destination, Lake Tahoe has thousands of hotels and motels to choose from after a big day on the slopes. If you’re hungry there are enough dining establishments to feed tens of thousands! Great lodging rates can be found to keep your budget happy even at a hotel close to the slopes!
In a competitive vacation market such as Tahoe, resorts are always teaming up with hotels to offer ski and lodging packages to get you the best deal for your trip. Whether you’re skiing or snowboarding, you can bundle your lodging, lift tickets and equipment rentals into one great deal, so you spend less money and more time having fun.
Lake Tahoe, in California and Nevada, is a world class winter destination mentioned in the same breath as Vail, Park City, and Banff. The snow is falling. The lifts are running. Come hit the slopes!!!