Heavenly, South Lake Tahoe

California, USA

Heavenly Mountain Resort is ginormous – a whopping 4800ac (1943ha) makes it the biggest ski area in California. In keeping with the terrain, the party scene is equally as big. A ski holiday here might be the type where you need to take a holiday afterwards to recover. But families shouldn’t be afraid of coming here either. The mountain is certainly big and diverse enough for everyone to enjoy.

Scout Loves

  • Spectacular views of sapphire blue Lake Tahoe on a sunny day.
  • Endless choices of terrain in two states.
  • Incredible tree-skiing and fantastic groomers make it a top playground for intermediate skiers.
  • The renowned Unbuckle Apres Party at Tamarack Lodge – party at 9150ft (2788m), including half-priced drinks and DJs.
  • Try to win back the cost of your ski ticket at one of the many casinos in Stateside.

Scout Tips

  • Take the free resort shuttle for a day trip out to Kirkwood for a bit of variety. If you’re on an Epic Pass the skiing there is included in your ticket.
  • Beginner skiers are relegated to a small section of the mountain – but it means they won’t be bombed by the egos of expert skiers.
  • You don’t need to stay up in the mountain. There is a gondola all the way from the lake providing easy access for those staying there.
  • Heavenly Village is more like a big town. With a major road through the middle it lacks the intimacy of a ski village.

Scout Review

Perched on the southern edge of Lake Tahoe is Heavenly Mountain Resort. This prime position means that stunning lake views are the norm from almost all parts of the mountain. One of the other benefits of its location comes from the fact it lies in two states, Nevada and California. Because it’s in Nevada the resort is a party haven thanks to the 24-hour casinos near the base of the mountain. It’s like a mini-Vegas with a ski resort attached – world-class skiing combined with entertainment, all-night dance clubs and five-star dining makes for a super fun ski vacation.

The party extends to the resort too, and every afternoon the famous Unbuckle Apres Party sets the scene for the rest of the night with dancing girls and half-priced drinks. And this season the resort takes the parties to the slopes – a mobile DJ snowcat will be pumping music to get you in the mood.

You’ll be forgiven for thinking it’s all about a party, but Heavenly is actually an incredible skiers mountain too. It boasts some terrific terrain for intermediates – they can cruise the long groomers or test themselves on the perfectly gladed runs. There are a few challenging runs for the more extreme skiers too, including 1600ft plunges in the Mott and Killebrew Canyon areas that are accessed via gates.

Heavenly Skiing

Heavenly Resort boasts the largest skiing area in all of California... so much so it's spills over into the neighbouring state of Nevada! With over 4800 acres of skiable terrain, Heavenly has a wonderful mix of terrain for all ability levels, alongside some of the best tree skiing in North America (and incredible views of Lake Tahoe to match!).

Best suited to intermediate skiers and snowboarders, Heavenly offers up some super fun leg-burning groomers, perfectly spaced trees, and two canyon areas with some more challenging chutes and drops. It's definitely not a boring place to ski! For those who like to hit park features, Heavenly has multiple parks to cater for different ability levels, and include a halfpipe. Advanced skiers are best to head into the trees, with wonderful gladed terrain (and massive pine trees to match), or to the alpine bowls. The Nevada side of the resort both Mott and Killebrew Canyon areas offer some lines tailored to the expert skier, however, there is nothing overly extreme at Heavenly. The best skiing is defintely off-piste so we recommend becoming familiar with the complex trail map and start to explore!

Heavenly is a relatively modern resort, so its lift infrastructure is quite efficient. The gondola from the centre of town to the ski area offers easy access to and from the slopes for those staying downtown rather than on the hill. Lake Tahoe is renowned for having some epic powder dumps over the years, on average 9 or so metres, but the resort also provides man-made snow, covering a staggering 73% of the trails. Expect many bluebird days at Heavenly, and snow to be a little wetter and heavier than other parts of the US (much like Australian snow, just more of it!).

Heavenly For Families

Heavenly Ski Resort has a pretty comprehensive range of facilities and amenities, both on-mountain and in South Lake Tahoe. From rentals to restaurants, and retail shops that stock all the outerwear, and ski accessories you may need (or have forgotten to pack). As per many world-class resorts, Heavenly offers a good range of childcare and babysitting options, both full and half-day. The Heavenly Ski School operates out of 3 location across the resort, and mix childcare and ski lessons in programs for the younger ones, as well as standard programs for adults and teens.

The resort has a fun tubing hill located at the top of the Gondola which is a great way to spend an afternoon. A smaller mini-tubing hill is also located near Adventure peak for the tiny ones. A popular activity for families is also the open-air skating, located at the Heavenly Village. It has great atmosphere on a cold Wintery night and is open until 11PM on Fridays and Saturdays. Down in South Lake Tahoe there are plenty of activities for the kids, including cinemas, bowling, and sleigh rides.

South Lake Tahoe is spread out across the resort area, offering varying base areas for families to stay. Heavenly Village provides the most convenient access to the gondola, resort facilities, and restaurants, and has a good range of hotels, motels, and condo options. Staying a little further away from the gondola reduces the price a bit for families and there are many shuttle options to ferry you around the village and resort area. The California Base area has little lodging on offer, however, within walking distance of the Aerial Tramway, and is closest to the best beginner slopes and day care. This area is most popular for families with small kids, as it's away from the fast-paced casino side of Lake Tahoe. The casino area, Stateline, is only a few minutes walk from the gondola and provides convenience of being close to the bustling nightlife.

Heavenly Accommodation

There is some lodging on the mountain, but since the gondola connects the lakeside Heavenly base area directly with the mountain, it’s just as easy for skiers to stay down in Stateline (Nevada) or South Tahoe (California). There’s more choice for accommodation styles, restaurants, bars and shops. And the good news is that staying in Heavenly isn’t going to break the bank like other resorts. 

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Resort Activities

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Apart from the parties and casinos there are a few other activities in the Heavenly Village area including shopping, ice-skating and a movie theatre. Snow-based activities include snowshoeing, snow-tubing and zip-lining up at the mountain adventure peak. It’s open daily until 3pm. Ice-skating at Heavenly Village is open late on the weekends. Lake-based activities in winter are more limited than summer but you can cruise the lake on a paddle steamer.

Getting There and Around

South Lake Tahoe is about 3 hours’ drive from the San Francisco area, though sometimes on winter weekends the traffic can double the time.

An alternative to driving is to fly to Reno, which has plenty of direct daily flights and is 70 minutes’ drive to South Tahoe. You can also fly to Sacramento although it’s about a 2-hour drive.

You won’t need a car if staying on the mountain or down by the lake – some places are close enough to walk to the gondola base area or there are buses (although they can be a hassle). If you want to ski other areas, there are shuttles to Northstar and Kirkwood in the morning and back in the afternoon – they leave from the transit center near the gondola. If you are planning on exploring different areas of the lake, you’re probably better off renting a car.

When To Go

Heavenly’s season operates from mid-November till mid-April. The best time of year to come is between January–March, with February being the most reliable. Spring skiing will have better weather, but less powder.

Holiday periods that are busy are:

  • Christmas and New Year.
  • Martin Luther King long weekend
  • President’s Day long weekend

Facts & Figures

Mountain Information   Lifts   Terrain    
Base Elevation 6540ft / 1993m Tram 1 Beginner 20%  
Summit Elevation 10,067ft / 3068m Gondola 1 Intermediates 45%  
Vertical Drop 3500ft / 1066m Express Six Seater 2 Advanced 35%  
Skiable Area 4800ac /1942haExpress Quads Express Quads 8      
Annual Snowfall 360in / 9.1m Triple Chairs 5      
Longest Run 5.4 miles / 8.8km Double Chairs 3      
Operating Hours 9.00am (8.30am on holidays) – 4.00pm Surface Lifts 6      
    Magic Carpet 4      
    Lift Capacity per hour 52,000people      
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