Californians know that Lake Tahoe is a glorious place to ski, with great weather, incredible natural beauty, and numerous resorts to choose from. It’s worth a trip from out-of-state, too, and offers many luxurious options that don’t cost a fortune.
Getting to Lake Tahoe
You can drive, take a train, or fly to Lake Tahoe. If you’re flying, your best bet is to arrive at the Reno-Tahoe Airport and rent a car (you’ll want a vehicle to get around during your stay). Choose an SUV that has chains on the tires, as you won’t be able to drive the pass that leads to the mountains without them if it’s snowing.
The Lake Tahoe area is full of glorious views and the scent of pines — it would be easy to spend your entire vacation driving around from lookout to lookout. Maybe if you’re lucky, you’ll even see a bear or two.
But with tons of great skiing, at some point you’ll definitely want to park it mountainside.
Ski Multiple Resorts on One Ticket
My all-too-brief spring trip to the Lake Tahoe area had me skiing with my husband and sons at Northstar Resort, which offers a great variety of terrain and some of the best tree skiing on the West Coast. Although we stuck to Northstar for our skiing, our lift tickets would have also let us ski at nearby family-friendly Heavenly and lesser known (and therefore less crowded) Kirkwood.
I like the size of Northstar; there’s enough here to keep your interest without it being overwhelming. One thing that’s also nice is the large variety of blue-level trails. If you’re a solid intermediate skier, this is a great mountain for you. My kids loved the graduated terrain park (and the fact that it’s Shaun White’s home mountain).
Want photos of yourself on the slopes? Northstar and Heavenly have Epic Mix photographers on site to take them. Wait until the end of the season to purchase and get great package deals.
Live the Cabana Lifestyle
I loved the chill après-ski atmosphere of the Village at Northstar, which you can enjoy whether or not you are staying there. Comfortable couches surround the rink (it had been turned into a roller rink while we were there, but during the colder weather it’s for ice skaters).
There are a number of bars mixing specialty drinks like the Dirty Snowman, a grownup hot chocolate made with Bailey’s and vanilla-scented vodka. Every afternoon the staff passes around gooey s’mores for the kids. (Yeah, the kids…).
On weekends and holidays there’s live music; my husband and I enjoyed listening to a steel guitar band playing surfer music while we sipped a couple of Fat Tires. There’s not much more joyful than like the combination of good beer, sunshine, mountain air, and a little kowabunga.
If you don’t feel like sitting outside, check out Petra, a chic but comfortable wine bar that’s right in the village. They not only offer flights of boutique wines you might not see elsewhere, but their appetizer and tapas plates are also generous and reasonably priced. We especially loved the large dish of mixed olives.
For a reasonably-priced meal in the village, try the Rubicon Pizza Company. A large Fire-Roasted Medley pizza topped with roasted garlic, onions, peppers and goat cheese is a filling treat and costs only $24. To satisfy your sweet tooth after dinner, simply stroll over to Euro Gelato.
Stay in a Condo and Save
Sure Northstar Resort is home to the Ritz-Carlton Tahoe. But there are also affordable lodging options of all sizes to be found in the village, especially if you book more than three nights or during off-peak times.
Stay in one of the condos that has a kitchen, and pack lunches or cook some of your own meals. The Safeway in Truckee is a large, well-appointed grocery store that’s only a 15-minute drive away. You’ll find a huge selection of wine and beer there as well as a large section devoted to prepared foods.
A tip: Buy your own s’mores supplies at the store and make good use of one of Northstar’s many fire pits. It will save you lots of money over the pre-made kits available onsite.
Enjoy Free Fun on First Fridays in Truckee
Nearby Truckee is a fantastic place to go for a stroll after a day on the slopes, full of shops selling everything from homemade fudge to local ceramics and art. Visit on the first Friday of the month from 5 to 8 p.m. and enjoy free drinks and snacks as well as live music, art demonstrations, and more.
We especially loved the colorful displays at the Truckee Variety Company, where whether you need gag gifts, decorative owls, or hair clips, you’re in luck.
Another highlight was exploring the jewelry, housewares, and art at Bespoke. We also got to learn about printmaking and to take home our creation as a souvenir — all free of charge. Of course, I did find the earrings impossible to resist.
There are numerous restaurants in Truckee. We enjoyed inexpensive, plentiful Mexican food and delicious margaritas at El Toro Bravo.
Don’t Forget to Visit the Lake
It’s lovely to see the lake from the ski trails, but also worth the drive down to the shore for a look at the crystalline water and amazing views. If you’re lucky like we were, a lone violinist might be serenading the ducks that swim past.
It’s a perfectly peaceful spot for contemplating your next day’s skiing.