Kirkwood, South Lake Tahoe

California, USA

At Kirkwood Mountain Resort it’s all about the skiing. Some seriously great terrain, awesome backcountry, endless powder and an authentic spirit combine to create a ski resort with a difference. Sadly, the facilities at the base area and the mostly old chair lifts desperately need an overhaul. The behemoth Vail Resorts recently bought it, so expect things to change over the coming years. In the meantime, if you can ignore its current state you’ll enjoy an amazing time as the skiing is incredible. 

Scout Loves

  • Deep-powder skiing among some steep terrain.
  • The lightest, driest and most plentiful snow in the Tahoe area.
  • Being able to ski Kirkwood for free if you hold an Epic Pass.
  • Expedition: Kirkwood – courses and guiding for the more adventurous, including cat tours, private backcountry guides, avalanche training and more.

Scout Tips

  • Kirkwood is in the middle of nowhere – the closest main town is South Lake Tahoe, which is a 50-minute drive away.
  • Accommodation is basic but adequate – if you’re looking for luxury, stay in Heavenly and take the shuttle.
  • The services, facilities and provisions on and off the mountain are basic.

Scout Review

You have to respect Vail Resorts and their recent purchase of Kirkwood Mountain Resort for a cool $18m. The investment certainly brings some diversity to the portfolio – where Beaver Creek’s motto is “Not Exactly Roughing It” the opposite is true for Kirkwood, which could comfortably claim “Roughing It”. Although the corporation has already started some capital improvements (some of the accommodation was updated during the 2013 summer), a big spend-up is needed to overhaul the facilities. There’s accommodation at the base area but not much else. The only grocery store sells “milk, bread and beer” basics. In other words, don’t expect to see bowling alleys, ice-skating rinks, movie theaters and 5-star hotels typically found in Vail’s resorts.

But we’re focusing too much on the facilities. Indeed, the style of the facilities is what gives Kirkwood much of its charm and the people here are down-to-earth die-hard skiers. It’s so far from anywhere it’s even off the electricity grid. As a result of all this, it’s often referred to as “Kirkweird”. But if you look beyond these things what you find is an amazing ski mountain that boasts some of the best terrain and powder skiing in the Tahoe area, if not the country. The black runs are true blacks and beginners are well advised to avoid getting stuck up near the expert areas. Skiers unfamiliar with the terrain or keen to give the closed-to-the-public, 55-degree Cirque terrain a whirl can use a guide via Expedition: Kirkwood. It als operates cat-skiing expeditions.

Beginners and intermediates are also well looked after with a school that lets kids start from age 2, and plenty of terrain to keep any non ski-junkie happy.

Regardless, no matter what part of the mountain you’re able to tackle, it will challenge you beyond most other resorts. You’ll hit the hay well before you can say, “But where’s the night club?”, so you can be ready to do it all again the next day.

Kirkwood Accommodation

Kirkwood is cheap and basic. Almost all of the accommodation is owned and managed by the resort - several condo and hotel buildings spread out from the base area. Be sure to bring supplies if you’re staying here as the facilities are basic and restaurant supply sparse. Rather than Kirkwood, you could stay in the South Lake Tahoe area where the options are a lot wider.

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Resort Activities

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Due to the basic facilities at the resort, there aren’t many things to do other than ski-related activities. There is a year-round zip line and canopy tour and a community recreation center with indoor workout equipment and two hot tubs. There is a pool but it shuts after the Christmas holiday period.

Getting There and Around

The best way to get to Kirkwood is by flying to Reno, which is about a 90-minute drive or Sacramento – just over 2 hours away. Kirkwood is about 3 hours, 30 minutes from San Francisco.

If you’re staying in South Lake Tahoe, the drive takes about 50 minutes. 

When To Go

Kirkwood operates from mid-November till mid-April. The best time of year to come is January–March, with February being the most reliable.

Holiday periods that are busy are:

  • Christmas and New Year.
  • Martin Luther King long weekend, January 17-20 (2014).
  • President’s Day long weekend, February 14-17 (2014).

Facts & Figures

Mountain Information   Lifts   Terrain    
Base Elevation 7800ft / 2377m Express Quads 2 Beginner 15%  
Summit Elevation 9800ft / 2987m Quad Chair 1 Intermediates 50%  
Vertical Drop 2000ft / 609m Triple Chairs 6 Advanced 20%  
Skiable Area 2300ac / 930ha Double Chairs 1 Expert 15%  
Annual Snowfall 600in / 15.24m Surface Lifts 3      
Longest Run 2.5 miles / 4.0km Magic Carpets 2      
Operating Hours 9.00am –4.00pm          
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