South Lake Tahoe Ski Resorts
Alpine Meadows has a down-to-earth vibe, friendly service, and awesome terrain, including an open boundary to the surrounding backcountry (weather permitting). The locals' favorite mountain, it's also the unofficial telemarking hub of the Sierra Nevada. Best of all, there's no glitz: you won't see any fur, and you'll likely spot somebody skiing in Levi's, just like in the 1970s. And because it's part of the South Lake Tahoe watershed, there are no fancy-pants real-estate developments at the base area, just a lodge.
The stats: 100 trails on 2,000 acres, rated 25% beginner, 40% intermediate, 35% advanced. Longest run 2-1/2 mi, base 6,835ft, summit 8,637ft. Lifts: 12, including 2 high-speed chairs.
Straddling two states, covering nine peaks, and sprawling over 4800 acres of wildly varied terrain, Heavenly Mountain Resort is the largest ski area in California and South Lake Tahoe's raison d'être in wintertime. If you dig long runs, ride Sky Express, then descend 3500-vertical feet and an amazing 5.5 miles (!) via Ridge Run and Roundabout - but like everywhere at Heavenly, keep your speed up (especially under the Powderbowl chair), or expect to skate some frustratingly long flats between peaks.
The Stats: 91 trails on 4800 acres, rated 20% beginner, 45% intermediate, 35% expert. Longest run 5.5 miles, base, 6540ft, summit 10,067ft. Lifts 30, including an aerial tram, gondola, 2 high-speed six-packs, and 6 high-speed quads. Annual snowfall 360 inches.
The favorite mountain of hardcore skiers and boarders, Kirkwood Mountain Resort consistently gets the deepest natural snow anywhere at South Lake Tahoe. Because of its location just west of the Sierra Crest, storms hammer the mountain unlike anywhere else: it's not uncommon for Kirkwood to have the deepest snowpack on the entire North American continent. There's guided out-of-bounds skiing with Expedition: Kirkwood, a custom-designed program for advanced skiers and riders, ranging from snowcat powder touring to avalanche training to clinics for improving your technique on the steeps - and this is the place for steeps! There's also great cross-country skiing, with 58km of superbly groomed tracks and skating lanes. For non-skiers, there's snow-shoeing and tubing; call ahead. Another great thing about Kirkwood is its location to some pretty awesome vacation rentals. Why stay in a small cramped hotel room when you can rent a whole South Lake Tahoe house.
The Stats: 65 trails on 2300 acres, rated 15% beginner, 50% intermediate, 20% advanced, 15% expert. Longest run 2.5 miles, base 7800ft, summit 9800ft. Lifts 14, including 2 high-speed quads. Annual snowfall 500 inches.
Mt. Rose - Ski Tahoe
Mt. Rose has the highest base elevation of any South Lake Tahoe resort, which means it has north Lake Tahoe's driest snow. (But this extreme height also means that there's little protection from the wind during a storm, so stay away unless it's sunny.) The hill's aspect lets you follow the sun across the mountain all day, a nice plus on a cold day. There are two distinct areas of the mountain, with lots of terrain for intermediates, but the real prize at Mt. Rose are the new Chutes, a 200-acre section of expert-only, nearly vertical terrain that opened in the 2004-05 season, making Rose the new top spot for extreme steeps this side of Squaw.
The stats: 61 trails on 1,200 acres, rated 20% beginner, 30% intermediate, 40% advanced, 10% expert. Longest run 2.5 mi, base 8,260ft, summit 9,700ft. Lifts: 6, including 2 high-speed six packs.
North Star is an intermediate skier's dream resort, with acres of groomed trails and an extensive series of interconnected blue runs to explore. Advanced skiers will find plenty of steeps at Lookout Mountain, the resort's newest area. The terrain looks a lot like Colorado, with thick stands of trees perfect for glade skiing. And after Homewood, Northstar is the best-protected resort in a storm.
The stats: 72 trails on 2,420 acres, rated 25% beginner, 50% intermediate, 25% advanced. Longest run 2.9 mi, base 6,400ft, summit 8,600ft. Lifts: 17, including a gondola and 5 high-speed chairs.
If you're into snowboarding, you'll dig Sierra-at-Tahoe, which lies west of South Lake Tahoe along US 50, making it a good choice for daytrippers from Sacramento and the Bay Area. Or ski here on your way into town or out of town if you are planning on spending some time South Lake Tahoe. If you are looking for a great place to stay we have some great South Lake Tahoe rental homes. that fit everyone's needs. It lacks the name recognition of bigger resorts like Kirkwood and Heavenly, so there's a little more breathing room here on a busy weekend. Though it's mostly an intermediate's mountain, with fabulous grooming, wide-open cruisers, and six terrain parks, Sierra also has some concentrated, but tough advanced runs, with gated backcountry access and thrilling tree skiing. It's also a great place to learn, with a family-friendly atmosphere that goes a long way toward reassuring nervous parents.
The Stats: 46 trails on 2000 acres, rated 25% beginner, 50% intermediate, 25% advanced. Longest run 2.5 miles, base 6640ft, summit 8852ft. Lifts 11, including 3 high-speed quads. Annual snowfall 560 inches.
Sqauw Valley USA
Squaw Valley is North Tahoe's mega resort, the most famous in California, and the top pick for kick-ass terrain. Spanning six peaks and a whopping 4300 acres, Squaw is gigantic - and incredibly diverse. Beginners do well here: unlike at other resorts, the bunny slopes are at mid-mountain, not the bottom, so first timers can get the killer lake views normally reserved experts while schussing down gentle, wide-open bowls. Intermediates dig the mellow groomers below Snow King Peak, but because of the hill's aspect, the snow here tends to get wet fast; unless it's cold, head to the north-facing Shirley Lake area. There's night-skiing too, down the three-mile-long Mountain Run, route of the men's Olympic downhill race.
The stats: 100 trails on 4,300 acres, rated 25% beginner, 45% intermediate, 30% advanced. Longest run 3 mi, base 6,200ft, summit 9,050ft. Lifts: 31, including a funitel, cable car, 7 high-speed chairs, and 18 fixed-grip chairs.