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. Unlike other resorts in Tahoe, Kirkwood feels a little small and underdeveloped, however, it's deep in tradition and slowly undergoing major changes to become a great destination resort. It might not have the great views of Lake Tahoe, but it does have incredible powder, one of the highest snowfall averages in the US, so how can we complain!

Scout Loves

  • Deep-powder skiing among some steep terrain.
  • The lightest, driest and most plentiful snow in the Tahoe area.
  • Kirkwood is part of the EPIC pass.
  • Expedition: Kirkwood – courses and guiding for the more adventurous, including freeride courses, 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
  • The services, facilities and provisions on and off the mountain are basic.

Scout Review

Kirkwood may not have the luxury facilities like other resorts in California, however, it does have great charm and a friendly and relaxed atmosphere. Kirkwood has undergone some major re-developments over the past few years since its takeover by Vail Resorts, with additional slopeside condos, and new facilities including 'grill' restaurants and après bars. The village is small - very small - with just a couple of restaurants and bars. In other words, don’t expect to see bowling alleys, ice-skating rinks, movie theaters and 5-star hotels typically found in Vail operated resorts. 

However it's the under-developed style that 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.

Despite all the serious terrain, beginners and intermediates are also well looked after with a school that lets kids start from age three, 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 Skiing

The one main thing Kirkwood has going for it is its amazing terrain; over 2300 acres of resort area, catering particularly to advanced and expert skiers and snowboarders. At Scout, we think Kirkwood is incredibly underrated. Towering higher than other resorts in Tahoe, Kirkwood (usually) boasts superb snow conditions, so when it's raining at other resorts, it's snowing at Kirkwood. 

The resort is not the best for beginner and novice skiers and snowboarders, with limited green terrain, however, the designated beginner area at the Timber Creek base does provide a safe learning trail without the hoons flying by. Intermediate skiers will love the wide and uncrowded groomers, and the opportunity to progress in their skiing with lower level black runs throughout the resort. For the advanced and expert skiers there is so much terrain to be found, including fun gullies and chutes, tight trees for more of a challenge, and alpine bowls that seem to fill non-stop with fresh snow. A long ridge line provides an entry point into many chutes and cornices, as well as some cliffs for extreme skiers and riders to huck off. 

Kirkwood offers some good backcountry opportunities not too far from the resort itself, and we recommend jumping on a tour with Expedition:Kirkwood to make the most of your runs. They also run a series of camps designed to quickly progress your skiing. 

Don't expect the fastest of chairlifts when at Kirkwood, however, the distinct lack of crowds means you're not exactly racing to the top for fresh tracks. Enjoy the ride. The lifts are also sequenced on powder days, providing plenty of opportunities for fresh lines throughout the day.

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Kirkwood For Families

Kirkwood doesn't have all the bells and whistles of a major ski resort, however, it's perfect for families that are a little more independant. The majority of the services are located in the small village and at the base area of Timber Creek, including the ski school, rentals, souvenirs, and retail shops. Kirkwood doesn't offer daycare, but lessons for kids aged 3 years and up. 

At the resort there are a few options for eating out, including a cafeteria, grill, coffee shop, and grocery store (limited). Certainly don't expect a happening nightlife or apres scene. Over recent years, the resort has added more dining options and upgraded their facilities. Most families who visit Kirkwood are hard-core skiers, who are happy to ski all day and reside to their condos during the evening. This does mean that the resort has a peaceful aura, and is rather relaxing compared to the glitz and glamour of the casino areas nearby. 

There are a few condos offering ski-in/ski-out (or barely minutes walk from the slopes) convenience for families. There are also a few condos closer to the Timber Creek area for those who require ski school and beginner terrain. You can easily combine Kirkwood with another resort in Tahoe (like Heavenly), or make day trips to the resort (roughly 45 minutes drive).

Kirkwood Accommodation

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Lodging at Kirkwood is basic, but offers a great value option for families in Lake Tahoe. 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 and distractions (like board games, sleds and books) if you’re staying here as the facilities are basic and there's only a handful of restaurants. Rather than Kirkwood, you could stay in the South Lake Tahoe area where the options are a lot wider, though doing multiple day trips here might get a bit tiring.

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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. 

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. There is a shuttle every Wednesday from and to South Lake Tahoe.

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
  • President’s Day long weekend

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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