Fly to California for skiing? Isn’t Colorado or Utah the place to go for snow? Lake Tahoe might surprise you. With a range world-class ski resorts packed into such a small area, it'll be tough picking just one! More than 8,903 ha of ski terrain is concentrated around the 3,048 m peaks circling this iconic lake, from smaller local ski areas to big brand name resorts. Top that off with 300 days of glorious sunshine, gorgeous scenery of Lake Tahoe, over 889 cm of annual snowfall and you've got a winner!
When weighing up Lake Tahoe against other heavyweight ski destinations in the US, one big factor is the temperature. Tahoe is usually warmer than both Colorado and Utah, which makes it a great choice if you want to avoid bitterly cold days on the mountain. However, this also means that some resorts with lower elevation are generally warmer and are subject to rain. Hardcore skiers come for the massive dumps and excellent powder skiing the area is renowned for, although timing your visit to coincide with fresh snowfall is key. For many visitors, other big draws include the amazing lake views and party atmosphere of Tahoe, with it’s lively après-ski, bustling nightlife, and high-stakes casinos.
While we've ranked our favorites, here is a quick rundown of some of the resorts you'll find at Lake Tahoe:
Northstar is an ideal place to start your ski tour, on Lake Tahoe’s North Shore. Passing through the stunning mountainside village, make note of après ski wine tasting, and ice skating for the kids on the centrepiece rink surrounded by inviting outdoor couches. The terrain itself is perfect for intermediate skiers, with the majority of trails being blue runs. Northstar is also known for its excellent protection from the wind and its lively base village. For some luxury living, the Ritz Carlton Lake Tahoe at Northstar offers sophisticated on-slope lodging and a ski valet.
The queen of the South Shore, Heavenly is the largest and highest resort at Tahoe, with 1,942 ha of skiing from California to Nevada and a 3,060 m summit. Ski down their exceptionally groomed trails as you embrace the spectacular views of Lake Tahoe. Heavenly’s South Shore at the gondola base is like “vertical Vegas"– with casinos, chain hotels, and clubs so you can après ski Tahoe style - dine, roll the dice, drink and dance at 100 bars.
Located 56 km south of Heavenly is Kirkwood, on Tahoe’s map with the highest base elevation affording it the deepest, driest snow. Kirkwood’s location and double black diamond terrain thin out the crowds. Kirkwood is known amongst experts for serious steep and deep including the legendary “Wall.” Kirkwood has ample lower mountain terrain to lure families to the 931 ha ski area.
One of the most famous ski resorts in America, Squaw Valley is often thought to be the best in Lake Tahoe (but how does it rank in our top 5 ski resorts in Lake Tahoe?). It has 1,457 ha of skiable terrain but since acquiring Alpine Meadows it has massive 2,428 ha of ski area, though these two are yet to be joined by gondola. Squaw Valley is known for their wide variety of extreme terrain although its vibrant ski culture, Olympic heritage, and excellent base village packed with aprés ski activities make it a popular destination!
If the large ski destinations vibe isn't your thing then head over to Alpine Meadows. Although it's technically apart of Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows retains its community atmosphere. Alpine is 80% above tree bowl skiing, with a decidedly local “vibe.” There’s no slopeside lodging, and the best terrain is out of bounds and legal with a most liberal backcountry policy. Alpine’s multi-faced mountain offers steep chutes and snow filled gullies on the front side, then sun-soaked bowls and Lake views on the back. Mid-mountain, The Chalet is a charming spot for a homemade lunch, with mostly outdoor seating (another indication of the desirable western winter weather).
Tips to ski Tahoe
Tahoe is getting serious snow right now, so go now to extend your ski season, and transition from turtleneck to t-shirt tan. April vacation week should be epic.
Fly into Reno or Sacramento airport, and rent a 4WD vehicle, The Tahoe Basin is legendary for large snow dumps (up to 1,524 cm annually) and you want to be able to make it to the mountains in snowy road conditions.
Travel clockwise around Lake Tahoe (116 km total) affording uninterrupted views of the brilliant blue water.
Drink lots of H2O, the arid western climate and the altitude are dehydrating. Tahoe, meaning “lake of the sky” in Native American, is 1,890 m above sea level, one of the deepest lakes in the world at 501 m, so it never freezes and retains its alluring blue hue. Keep sunscreen and sunglasses on hand, and dress in layers, ready to shred.