Northstar, North Lake Tahoe

California, USA

Northstar California Resort is one of the lesser known Tahoe ski resorts, so most people who come here are pleasantly surprised. The resort has undergone gigantic improvements in recent years and the European-style village is now a vibrant and happening place that has a wonderful homely feel. There’s a variety of accommodation options, shops, bars and restaurants on pedestrian-only walkways that meander around buildings and an ice-skating rink. Oh, and the skiing is pretty good too!

Scout Loves

  • For those into terrain parks and pipes, Northstar has some of the best facilities in the country.
  • Northstar is home to the famous Burton Snowboard Academy.
  • Great tree skiing, particularly around Backside Express.
  • The Ritz-Carlton – Tahoe’s only five-star hotel is found half-way up the mountain.
  • Wind protected slopes, perfect for beginners.

Scout Tips

  • Northstar is a fantastic family resort.
  • There’s a ton of intermediate terrain – 60% of the slopes are designated intermediate areas and some of the advanced slopes are on the easier side of black. Advanced skiers looking to be challenged will probably be disappointed, though if staying here can easily do day trips to nearby Squaw Valley.
  • Most of the value-oriented accommodation is situated far enough from the base area to require a short but frequent shuttle bus ride. Other good budget accommodation options are in Truckee (10 minutes) or in one of the lakeside towns (15-plus minutes)

Scout Review

Northstar California Resort is one of the best options in the Lake Tahoe area for a high-quality family ski vacation. With terrain largely dedicated to intermediate skiers, it also has some great beginner runs and the Backside area has skiing for the more advanced.

However, where Northstar really excels as a family destination is its newly developed village area. From the complimentary S’Mores to the huge ice-skating rink in the center of it all, kids will be kept happy here once ski school is over. Parents will also love the village for exploring the many bars (don’t miss Petra wine bar) and restaurants. There’s also some great shops, a movie theater, yoga studio and day spa.

There is some top-notch accommodation right in the village as well as more value-oriented condos a short shuttle ride from the base. However, if the ultimate in luxury is your thing then head straight to the Ritz-Carlton a little further up the hill.

Make sure you join in for the daily toast to the mountain - or Tost as they like to call it. Every day at 2pm you can get a free glass of bubbles (or apple cider) and the line opens at 1:30pm - glasses are first come first served. Perhaps wait for a weekday when there are less crowds to avoid wasting valuable ski time!

Another selling point of Northstar would have to be its terrain parks and pipes - Olympian Shaun White used to train here. There are two 18ft pipes and one mini pipe. The resort often hosts major competitions, so you might see some skilled skiers on the slopes!

Northstar Skiing

With over 3170 acres of terrain, Northstar is one of the larger ski resorts in the Tahoe area, behind Heavenly and Squaw Valley. The best way to look at the resort is to break it down into 3 main areas; the Front Face, the Backside and Lookout Mountain, each offering different trails to explore. 

Beginners will love the easy mellow terrain of the Front Face, and its proximity to the main base area of Northstar Resort and mid-mountain lodges. The resort has lots of little fenced off ski school areas for first timers and plenty of good runs for progression. The Backside boasts some great steep intermediate runs (groomed black runs) as well as cruisy groomers. Northstar doesn't particularly cater to advanced and expert skiers and snowboarders, however, it does have an array of black runs, and some fantastic tree skiing. On Lookout Mountain and the Backside, you can find some nicely spaced trees, and plenty of powder stashes between them.

The major highlight of Northstar are its terrain parks - offering several setups catering to all ability levels, as well as a Burton progression park, and 22 foot superpipe.

Northstar has a great lift infrastructure which includes two gondolas, and express quads. Lift lines are mellow throughout the week, however, expect queues on weekends when the resort hits peak capacity.

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Northstar For Families

Northstar has to be one of the best destination resorts for families, with high quality customer service, great amenities and facilities. It has all the bells and whistles of a world-class resort, and caters incredibly well to families. Everything you need is situated in the main Village at Northstar, including a good array of rental shops (with delivery services), and retail shops. Minor's Camp offers childcare for kids aged 2 - 6 years, although located a bit further from the main village at the Northstar Golf Course Clubhouse. The Ritz Kids program at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel is another option with full/half day and 2 hour options for childcare.

The Northstar Ski School is massive and highly regarded among the ski community. The standard kids and adult lessons are offered for those from aged 3 and up, with multiple meeting locations in the resort. Private lessons are also available. 

Kids will love the new Adventure Zones at Northstar, offering fun skiing slopes catering to the kids with natural and man-made features that provide fun facts along the way about the local history and environment at the resort. Families will also love the ice-skating rink and bungy trampoline at the resort, tubing, and movie nights (the village has a cinema complex).

For lodging, families can choose from a variety of hotels and condos at Northstar. The majority are located in the Northstar Village, which is a fantastic home base with its ice rink, firepits, shops, restaurants, and bars scattered throughout. Upscale condos, villas, and suites are ski-in/ski-out or super close to the gondola (some are only a few minutes walk away). The luxurious Ritz-Carlton Hotel is also popular with families who enjoy lodging with high-end facilities and proximity to the slopes (located mid-mountain with an outdoor swimming pool, ski valet, day spa, and ski-in/ski-out access). The Constellation Residences at Northstar are also incredible lodging for those who seek an unforgettable ski vacation.

Northstar Accommodation

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There is an array of accommodation available in and around Northstar. Some is centered around the village and includes anything from basic loft rooms to luxurious ski-in ski-out condos. The main village has wonderful facilities and a great family atmosphere, with firepits, ice-skating rink, retail shops, local restaurants and bars scattered throughout the streets. A little further out from the village are some mid-range condos in various townhomes and complexes. The Ritz-Carlton sits half way up the hill and is the choice for the more discerning, or the Constellation Residences for those who seek the epitome of luxury ski vacations. If you are on a tighter budget you can try nearby Truckee or one of the lakeside towns. 

Find a great map of the Northstar Resort area and location of our favourite hotels here.

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Resort Activities

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Along with the many village activities (S’mores, ice-skating, yoga, shops, live music and movies) there’s also a bungy trampoline and ropes challenge, tubing, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Northstar is incredibly family friendly, with plenty of on-site activities to keep the younger ones entertained.

Getting There and Around

Getting to Northstar is relatively easy. It’s just over a 45-minute drive from Reno-Tahoe International Airport which has 72 daily departures non-stop to 15 cities. There are several shuttle services which can be included in a Northstar Ski Package via Scout. If driving from San Francisco, it will take about 3 hours – though longer with weekend traffic and much longer with bad weather.

If you are keen to explore the Lake Tahoe area, including other ski resorts and towns, it is worth having your own car. There are shuttle services, taxis and buses but it may require some connections to get where you are going.

When To Go

Northstar is open for skiing from mid-November–mid-April.

Other 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 6330ft / 1929m Gondolas 2 Beginner 13%  
Summit Elevation 8610ft / 2824m Express Six Seater 1 Intermediates 60%  
Vertical Drop 2280ft / 695m Express Quads 7 Advanced 27%  
Skiable Area 3170ac / 1282ha Quad Chair 1      
Annual Snowfall 350in / 9m Triple Chairs 2      
Longest Run 1.4 miles / 2.3km Surface Lifts 2      
Snowmaking 50% Magic Carpets 5      
    Lift Capacity per hour 34,799 per hour      
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