Lake Tahoe has water so deep it could sink the Empire State Building and you still wouldn’t see the top. Combined with the surrounding tall mountains and ski resorts make Tahoe a winter paradise.
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Tahoe’s ski areas are all within easy reach of one another, our top three each have a distinct look, personality and audience. What’s great about those three is that they are all operated by Vail Resorts and can be ridden with one Epic Pass. Next month is the Epic Pass’s 10th anniversary and the program now offers access to 46 ski resorts in seven countries around the world!
There’s still time to get your Tahoe mountain high. Most resorts won’t close until early April (if not later, depending on the late season alpine snow).
Kirkwood is targeted for the serious skiers. It is definitely a mountain for the skilled athlete, with more than 60% of its runs rated as black, or double-black diamond. It is a breathtaking hour and a half drive south through state capital Carson City. While it’s further out than some of the other resorts, the path through the pine forests will make you easily forget the travel distance. Cell service goes in and out as civilization turns into switchback roads and animal crossing signs. That out-of-this-world vibe is what sets Kirkwood apart. The resort sits at the end of a box canyon, allowing it collect more snow than any of the other areas around the lake. The canyon walls help to preserve the vintage, ski town vibe. There won’t be any Gucci stores, or fancy dining on the mountaintops, but you will experience some of the most epic runs of your life.
Even with the Vail name and money behind it, Kirkwood is incredibly low-key and without frills. The classic meal is a burrito and some coffee at the General Store next to Chair 1. After a day on the slopes, be sure to check out the historic Kirkwood Inn, built in 1864 by Zachary Kirkwood. The timber saloon is rumored to have once been on wheels so that it could cross county lines to evade the law. Now, it’s known as the best spot to grab a drink and delicious BBQ ribs.
Heavenly is great for the whole family! The resort straddles California and Nevada with 4,800 acres of mostly intermediate terrain and beautiful views on both sides. With over 34 miles of groomed cruisers, all but two of the 30 lifts serve blue runs on 3,500 feet of vertical. The sunny location gets blue-bird skies for an average of 300 days a year, but somehow manages to get 360 inches of snowfall annually.
Heavenly really delivers on the non-skiing options of a winter vacation. They have ice skating, hot and sweet treats, breweries, sleigh rides, shopping and restaurants. Hop on the gondola to go from Heavenly Village to Adventure Peak for tubing, a ropes course and a roller coaster.
Northstar is truly a first-class experience. For ultimate lake sophistication, the resort offers several different platinum packages – a first-tracks experience so you can ski before the resort opens to the public, a lift pass that frees you of the lines and a platinum toast at their outdoor mountain bar with private seating and a bottle of Veuve Clicquot. Even without the bubble, Northstar is posh. They offer over 3,100 skiable acres with 20 lifts and two gondolas. Not only that, they have their world-renowned terrain parks including a 22-foot superpipe designed by Olympian Shaun White. The runs are mostly intermediate, but some of the more skilled skiers will quietly head through the trees to the Backside. There’s also a kid’s terrain adventure park with bumps and jumps that are always a big hit.
All of the on-hill amenities in Tahoe are the best you can find. The ski and snowboarding programs are as much about personal development as they are about slope technique. From beginner lessons, to accelerated learning they put an emphasis on larger goals like confidence, skills building and new limits.
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