Lake Tahoe

California, USA

Lake Tahoe offers up 15 resorts and some amazing skiing, all set against a backdrop of the stunning blue lake rimmed with snowcapped mountains. In summer the lake is the main event, but in winter it moves to the mountains surrounding it. Split fairly evenly down the middle by the border of California and Nevada, it does have a personality that reflects this. The area’s resorts are varied and so is the culture – from quirky Kirkwood to flashy Heavenly in the South to gnarly Squaw Valley & Alpine Meadows, and Northstar in the North there is something for every taste. And to top it off, the resorts collect some of the country’s highest annual average snowfalls so powder can be plentiful.

Scout Loves

  • Sunny days that create views of the lake so spectacular it’s almost unbelievable.
  • HUGE dumps of powder are common, particularly at Squaw Valley.
  • Kirkwood, or Kirkweird, has managed to maintain its quirky, rustic atmosphere despite the recent purchase by Vail Resorts.
  • The more laid-back atmosphere of North Tahoe and the cute towns in the area.
  • A vibrant nightlife in South Tahoe and chance to test your luck off the mountains in the casinos.

Scout Tips

  • While it is possible to ski all the resorts from anywhere in the area, if you are planning on skiing several you may want to decide between North Tahoe resorts or South Tahoe resorts and stick to them to avoid too much travel.
  • The road down the eastern shore is often closed due to avalanche risk, so if you decide to drive between North and South plan on using the western shore road.
  • Tahoe is a great area to ski if you have an Epic Pass from Vail Resorts – Northstar, Heavenly and Kirkwood are all included.

Scout Review

North Lake Tahoe

North Lake Tahoe has several ski areas that really do offer something for everyone - from the tiny Homewood on the Western shore and equally small Mt Rose and Diamond Peak resorts in the north, to the family friendly Northstar and the extreme slopes of Squaw Valley. The Donner Summit area has a collection of basic, small resorts that can offer some respite if the crowds get too much in the big resorts. In between all of this are dotted some cute towns, some of which look like they haven’t changed much since the 1960s (like Tahoe City and Kings Beach). Truckee is one of the bigger towns in the area – despite its appearance of a sleepy little town the historic main street has some great restaurants and bars, making it a favorite of the North Tahoe locals and worth a visit if you’re staying in the area.

Northstar and Squaw Valley are the largest resorts in the area and have a variety of accommodation options at each. Squaw Valley is now on the same ticket as Alpine Meadows and although they are not connected via lifts, a 10-minute shuttle bus runs on a loop between the two. But you don’t have to stay in the resorts to enjoy the skiing in the area – some of the towns (particularly Truckee, Tahoe City and Incline Village) have short 20-30 minute commutes to either resort.

South Lake Tahoe

In stark contrast to the northern half, South Lake Tahoe’s personality is dominated by the Nevada side of the lake – giant casinos are dotted on the edge of the lake and the area has a vibrant apres and night life (on the slopes and in the casinos). If shows, live music, clubs and gambling are your thing then staying in South Tahoe will be your best bet. Beyond the glitz and glamour, there are two fantastic ski resorts to choose from. Heavenly Ski Resort looms right above the city and the ski runs and lifts extend to lake level. Further away is Kirkwood, a sister of Heavenly thanks to its owner, Vail Resorts, yet it couldn’t be more opposite.  It’s laid-back, small and has basic facilities, however it has some fantastic skiing.

Lake Tahoe Skiing

With a multitude of resorts to choose from in the Lake Tahoe area, it's just a matter of picking the best resort to match your skiing ability level and style. Let's break it down by resort to find the best one for your perfect ski vacation...

Northstar
- Perfect for beginners
- Incredible terrain park setup including superpipe
- 3 main areas to ride, catering well to intermediate level skiers
- Great tree-skiing for advanced riders

Heavenly
- Largest skiing area in all of California
- Some of the best tree-skiing
- Good mix of terrain for all ability levels
- Fantastic off-piste terrain, gladed tree skiing, alpine bowls & chutes for the advanced skier
- Incredibly family friendly

Squaw Valley
- Over 14 mountain zones spread across Squaw and Alpine Meadows
- Beginner & novice skiers will love the mellow terrain
- Best known for its expert terrain - wide open bowls, cliff drops, chutes & gullies & epic hike-to areas
- Long cruisy groomers for intermediates
- Heart-stopping terrain & mountain views to match

Kirkwood
- Caters well to advanced & expert skiers
- Perfect for intermediates, with long groomed runs, and progressive terrain
- Tight trees, chutes, and alpine bowls with hike-to & backcountry options
- Higher elevation than other resorts in Tahoe
- Limited options for beginners & novice skiers & snowboarders


 

Lake Tahoe For Families

Choosing the best ski resort for your family vacation can mean the difference between a memorable, hassle-free holiday or a logistical nightmare. Let us help you decide on the best option for your family ski holiday by checking out our top tips for each resort below:

Northstar
- Made for families with exceptional customer service & all the bells & whistles
- Highly regarded ski school with a multitude of programs for kids aged 3 and up, and adults
- Super fun Adventure Zone with extra activities to keep the whole family entertained
- Great main village with good facilities and close to lodging options

Heavenly
- Comprehensive range of facilities & amenities, both on and off mountain
- World-class ski school with 3 locations across the resort area
- Endless activities for the kids in South Lake Tahoe
- Lodging options to suit any budget, and convenient access to resort facilities

Squaw Valley
- Endless terrain for all ability levels
- Family Fun Zone at SnoVentures is perfect spot for beginners & those learning to ski
- Squaw Kids Children Centre with fantastic half and full day programs
- Lots of down-day activities for the whole family

Kirkwood
- Perfect for families that are more independant & don't require all the facilities of a major resort area
- Affordable lodging super close to the slopes
- Mellow nightlife (non-party scene)
- Small central village with all the amenities you need in one location

Lake Tahoe Accommodation

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Getting There and Around

Lake Tahoe is about 3 hours drive from the San Francisco area, though sometimes on winter weekends it can take double that due to traffic.

An alternative to driving is to fly to Reno, which has plenty of direct daily flights and is a 70-minute drive to South Tahoe and 40 minutes to Truckee in the North.

You can also fly to Sacramento, although it’s about 2 hours’ drive to either end of the lake.

If you are staying in a resort and not planning to ski other areas you won’t need a car – shuttles are available from Reno airport. In North Lake Tahoe there are some public buses into the town areas from the ski resorts, but if you are planning on moving around a bit, you may want to rent a car.

MAGAZINE
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Julia Mancuso: Squaw's Golden Girl

Scout catches up with USA's most exciting female Winter Olympian and Squaw Valley local. read more

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Go steep or go home

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How to ski 28 resorts for $39 a day or less

How to ski 28 resorts for $39 a day or less

If you're going to do a fair bit of skiing this season, combination passes are great value. Scout reviews two of the best. ... read more

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