Lake Tahoe ski resorts guide: 7 resorts, 1 lift pass

Categories USA

Lake Tahoe is well known in the UK, mainly thanks to those incredible pictures of skiers drowning in powder with a perfect, crystal blue lake as a backdrop.

But here’s the best bit – the reality is absolutely that!

 

 

But before we go any further, here’s a few key facts to know about Lake Tahoe ski resorts:

  • Lake Tahoe refers to the area and there are 14 ski resorts in total.
  • The Lake Tahoe lift pass covers 7 of the best ski resorts including the well-known Heavenly and Squaw Valley, but there are five more that are also worth a look.
  • Lake Tahoe is split between California and Nevada – the town of Heavenly is actually cut in half by the state line.
  • Between all the resorts on the Lake Tahoe lift pass you can ski well over 600 runs across close to 20,000 skiable acres – that’s not far off double the size of the Three Valleys.
  • Over 1,000cm of snow falls in an average season – that’s 2.2 double-decker buses or 5.7 Boris Johnsons.

Ski Resorts – all 7 of them

With such a huge ski area and so many Lake Tahoe ski resorts to choose from,  deciding where to start is the first task.

Below we’ve quickly summed up all the resorts on the Ski Lake Tahoe pass to give you a feel for what each one offers.

Heavenly

  • Well known thanks to its phenomenal views of the lake – the best run takes starts with views out across the Nevada desert to Lake Tahoe and the mountains beyond.

Although it doesn’t have the most runs, (although at 94 it’s not to be sniffed at) this is the largest ski area (by acres of terrain), which means there’s loads of ‘off-piste’ style skiing. The added bonus is that as it’s the USA this is all patrolled and completely safe, even for first timers venturing off the tracks.

There’s something for everyone here and is the best all-round mountain – you could happily spend your whole holiday in the trees, smashing down cruisers or hurling yourself down one of the double black diamond runs if you are that way inclined.

This is one of the best mountains in North America. Full stop.

Squaw Valley

With 170 runs, Squaw has the largest number of runs on Tahoe.

Like Heavenly it has a great mix of piste, three-quarters of which is for beginner and intermediate skiers. But it’s the advanced and expert skiers that tend to head here due to some of the best steep bowls and chutes to be found anywhere in the States.

Northstar

Northstar ski resort is owned by the same company as Breckenridge and Vail so they certainly know how to run a good ski resort. For a beginner or intermediate skier this place is just a dream –there’s 94 runs here that they love to groom, with endless, long runs to whizz around on.

And if you want to hit the park, don’t miss the 7 metre superpipe designed by Shaun White.

Kirkwood

If you’re a good skier then heading here for the day is a must. Although not the biggest with 65 trails to explore. It’s certainly the scariest.

The Wagon Wheel lift has a skull and crossbones sign at the bottom saying “experts only” and is the lift to access the range of double black diamond bowls including the infamous “The Wall” bowl, we agree with the sign.

There are enough blue runs to entertain for a day but really this is one for the good/fearless rider.

Mt. Rose

The closest ski resort to Reno has a good variety of blue and black runs for intermediates across 65 runs.

There’s also “Chutes” for the better riders which is a wall of well, chutes. They do have great names like Chaos, Nightmare and Detonator but they are pretty tricky.

Alpine Meadows

OK, it says in Alpine Meadows’ promotional material they have 100 runs but we think they have counting problems – the acreage is around the same size as Kirkwood.

It’s great for a day’s skiing but not a huge amount to keep anyone under an advanced skier particularly interested, although can be a little quieter than nearby Squaw.

Sierra

The smallest of the resorts on the Lake Tahoe lift pass, with just 46 runs, but nevertheless fun for a day if you want to brag that you’ve skied in all seven resorts.

Chat to a local to find out the secret tree runs where you can find stashes of powder long after a storm, but make it clear that you’re just there for a day and that you’ll take the secret with you to the grave…

Where to stay

Heavenly

The town is actually called South Lake Tahoe and the ski mountain is called Heavenly but to save confusion most people call it all ‘Heavenly’.

By far the largest village of any of the resorts around the lake, hence its popularity with Brits who are keen for both great skiing and lots to do. It’s split between the states of California and Nevada so you find an attractive little ski village at the base of the gondola but just a couple of streets away you suddenly get the high rise casinos of the Nevada side.

We love the casino hotels, as they put you within yards of the gondola. They’re also a really cheap room rate (as the hotels want to lure you into staying there to gamble rather than ski).  This also means some fun nightlife with 24 hour bars, entertainment and gambling – not your average ski holiday.

In Heavenly there’s a great range of accommodations – our personal favourite is Harvey’s Casino Hotel. It’s just 100m from the Heavenly Gondola, the rooms are really nice and there’s good facilities (including a pool, hot tub and a hefty choice of bars and restaurants) and the price is great too, for the reasons we mention above.

If you don’t fancy a casino then both the Forest Suites and the Station House Inn are great options.

It puts you within 30mins of Sierra and just under an hour from Kirkwood ski resorts, plus there’s a great day trip that runs to Squaw Valley which involves going across the lake in a paddle steamer.

Reno

This city puts you right next to the resorts of North Lake Tahoe, we think a car’s best to have here but it’s not imperative – there is a daily shuttle to Mt Rose and non-daily shuttles to Northstar, Squaw and Alpine Meadows.

Apart from being right next to world renowned skiing there are two great things about Reno:

  1. The price – you can get a top, luxury, casino hotel for phenomenally cheap as its low season (for them).
  2. Loads to do –lots of entertainment, bands, concerts, magic shows – you name it!

Where else can you find a ski resort that’s got: a list as long as its Main Street of outlet shops. An NBA basketball team. Golf – yep, courses open year around. And for those a fan of bowling, King Pin, or both then there’s the National Bowling Stadium in the city with about 6 million lanes!

In Reno we only offer the Peppermill Casino as it’s just such great value for such a high standard of hotel – we could offer more but they wouldn’t be as good and be more expensive, so this is definitely the best of the bunch! It puts you in the centre of Reno while having a huge number of facilities and large, lovely and slightly OTT hotel rooms.

Other resort villages

There is accommodation in other resorts. For example, Northstar and Squaw both have decent size villages. But if you’re going for 10 days or so then they don’t offer a huge amount to do.

Heavenly we feel is the best option and is much cheaper, or Reno gives you easy access to the resorts of the North Lake while offering plenty in the evenings.

Double up

Why not split your time between Reno and Heavenly?

Our North American Tailor-Made team can do this for you and it doesn’t work out too different in price. That way you make it easy to ski all 7 resorts on the pass.

Getting around the lake

OK – so there are 7 resorts but how do you get around them all?

Image courtesy of www.mappery.com

We really recommend car hire for Lake Tahoe and think it’s the best way to get around. There are shuttle buses available from resort to resort but they are seasonal, not daily and don’t give you the flexibility of a car.

Driving is incredibly easy and all the ski resorts are well sign posted and simple to find – forget nail-biting switchbacks, all the resorts are off main roads. Remember though,  it does snow a lot in this area so if you do want to ski a different resort everyday it’s best to hire an SUV which will have all-weather tyres so you won’t need snow chains (which are not allowed with hire cars). All our hotels in Lake Tahoe have free car parking.

Getting there

There’s a couple of ways to get to Lake Tahoe:

San Francisco

Our recommended route to Lake Tahoe would be to fly into San Francisco and then drive to Lake Tahoe.

There are plenty of direct flights from the UK to San Fran and once you are there it’s about  a 3.5 hour, easy drive – no transfers from here but if you’re worried about driving straight after a long haul flight then you can always overnight overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge (or spend a few days there) before you travel on.

Reno

You can get a lot closer to Lake Tahoe by flying into Reno, the only downside is that there are no direct flights from the UK so you have to fly via Chicago or another US hub to get there.

The nice thing is once you get to Reno you’re only an hour from Heavenly – or, if you’re staying in Reno, you’re there.

Private transfers are available from here or you can pick up a car. You’ll need to speak to our tailor-made team if you want to do this route.

Find out more

Opening hours:
Monday – Saturday: 9.00am-7.00pm
Sunday: 10.00am-5.00pm

Please note: Calls to 0871 numbers cost 10p per minute plus network extras.

Photo credits: Squaw Valley, Northstar, Heavenly, Kirkwood, skialpine.com

 

Michael is Ski-buzz's resident North America expert and writes feature articles and resort guides for Ski-buzz. There are very few resorts across the USA and Canada that Michael hasn't visited.

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