Lake Tahoe: A Heavenly place to be

Below is the copy from a feature I wrote about skiing in Lake Tahoe in 2011:

Nick Spearing visits the beautiful resorts surrounding the picturesque Lake Tahoe. From the quaint Californian villages of Northstar and Kirkwood, to the casinos that line the Nevadan border at the foothills of Heavenly.

Any number of adjectives could be used to describe Lake Tahoe and its beauty. Located in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, bisecting the California and Nevada border, Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine freshwater lake in North America. The picturesque lake provides the perfect backdrop for some of the best skiing and snowboarding terrain on earth.

The seven ski resorts around the lake, including the 1960 Winter Olympics town of Squaw Valley, provide nearly 20,000 acres of skiable pistes. With a range of terrain, green and blue runs perfect for beginners to the black and double black diamond zones to challenge even the experts, Tahoe is perfect for everyone. When I say everyone… I mean everyone. Even non-skiers and riders will find plenty to do to around the lakeside resorts.

Flying into the beautiful San Francisco, if you have never been there before, I highly recommend spending a day or two exploring the city. There is plenty to do to keep you entertained. You can cross the world famous Golden Gate bridge from the city to North Vista point. From Vista Point you can see the breathtaking bridge in all its glory. The amazing view of The Golden Gate is equally matched by that of San Francisco across the bay. The rolling hills of the city and the skyscrapers juxtapose the crisp blue waters. Alcatraz island sits perfectly in the middle of the bay and is a must-see for those visiting San Fransisco. For just $26 an adult can catch the ferry to the former prison island and experience the history. Including a 45-minute audio tour, Alcatraz is an interesting place to visit for all of the family.

To fully experience both San Francisco and Lake Tahoe, hiring a car is of the utmost importance. To travel to Lake Tahoe by coach would be a costly mistake. The 196 mile trip from San Fran to Heavenly Village takes approximately 4 hours by car, but much longer on a coach. Driving to Lake Tahoe also gives the added freedom of driving between the seven main ski towns. As for lift passes for the resorts, the best option for those wanting to experience as many resorts as possible is to opt for a ‘voucher’ style pass, where you exchange a voucher at any ticket office in the Tahoe area. This will give you the freedom to visit any resort any day, meaning you are not tied down while on holiday.

Heavenly at Tahoe is as it says on the tin, a slice of Heaven. Having 4,800 acres of skiable terrain, Heavenly at Lake Tahoe is the largest ski area Lake Tahoe has to offer.  The mountain bisects the California and Nevadan border, splitting the skiable piste in half. The Californian side of the mountain is much more intermediate orientated. The blue pistes offer perfect terrain for the less confident skiers. With Heavenly village situated on the south shore of the lake, the Californian side of the mountain offers the most breathtaking views of Lake Tahoe.

The Nevadan side, however, offers a completely different experience, both in skiing terms and visually. Disembark from the ‘Dipper Express’ chairlift to find the most challenging pistes of Heavenly. The most experienced skiers and riders can take the black diamond run ‘Milky Way’ to take them to arguably the toughest pistes of Lake Tahoe. Following this piste to the end leads the most thrill-seeking skiers to gateway to paradise. The gated entrance to the ‘Killebrew Canyon’ is marked with warnings of “steep chutes and unmarked obstacles”; suggesting it is for, “Super experts only”. The views from the top of ‘Killebrew’ are equally spectacular as those of the Californian side. Rather than the beautiful lake backdrop, the Nevadan side overlooks the sparse, green, open land of the Carson valley.

Heavenly Village offers plenty to do for the non-skier. Walkers can buy a gondola pass from the ticket office and take the 12-minute ride up the gondola. As you elevate to over 9,000 feet you are treated to some of the greatest views of Lake Tahoe. At just over 9,000 feet, the gondola stops allowing users to get off and experience ‘the deck’, a huge observation platform that offers shore-to-shore views of the Lake as well as views of the desolate Carson Valley. There are a number of other activities available day and night in Heavenly, including ice-skating, Snowmobiling, balloon rides and lake cruises. With the village spanning across the Stateline of California and Nevada, the gambling culture of Nevada is right on your doorstep. Those who fancy a flutter can walk less than half a mile, from the village centre, to the giant Harrah’s casino and experience a Nevadan casino for themselves.

If you’re staying in Heavenly village, there is only one way Squaw Valley should be experienced. Rather than traveling in the car to the resort, there is an option to travel to the Olympic resort by coach. I know this doesn’t sound glamorous, but stay with me. The coach picks you up from outside your hotel and drops you outside the ticket office at Squaw. Being the second largest ski area in the Lake Tahoe area, Squaw Valley offers ample amounts of terrain for all abilities. The runs underneath the ‘Gold Coast Express’ chairlift are perfect for beginners or for those who want to cruise around the mountain. The more experienced skiers will probably want to head towards the peak ‘KT-22’ or ‘Squaw Peak’ as this is where the tougher terrain can be found.

After experiencing a day’s skiing or riding in Squaw, you may be thinking: “I hope we don’t have to sit on that coach all the way back”. You don’t. The coach drops you at the dock of the ‘Tahoe Queen’, an authentic Mississippi paddlewheeler. ‘The Queen’ takes you on a two-hour cruise back across to the southern shore of the lake. Watching the sun set behind the mountains, food is served before guests can dance to the sound of a local 1970’s cover band, playing the likes of Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Eagles. Returning on the ‘Tahoe Queen’ is the perfect way to get back to Heavenly.

As for the other resorts, Kirkwood is the ultimate place to ski or ride if there has been a big overnight snowfall. With powder levels reaching over the tops of your boots, Kirkwood is the perfect place to put into place your powder skiing skills. As with all of the smaller purpose built resorts, Kirkwood offers very little for the non-skier. There are a few nice cafés to have a nice hot chocolate at but nothing close to the busy towns of Heavenly and Squaw. Northstar at Tahoe is an intermediate resort that has 3,000 acres of skiable pistes. However, despite being a more intermediate based resort, Northstar has seven terrain parks that allow the more expansive skiers and boarders the opportunity to show off their skills. The parks at Northstar have played host to competitions such as the ‘Dew Tour’ over the past few seasons.

Sierra-at-Tahoe offers sheltered tree skiing and is great for younger skiers in need of confidence. Alpine Meadows offers a range of terrain, with more intermediate than expert pistes. Alpine Meadows offers great views of the lake and is located just a few miles from Squaw Valley. Diamond Peak is the smallest of the ski areas, with just six lifts. There is plenty of skiing for beginners but isn’t recommended for a skier who likes to put the miles in.

The word beauty doesn’t describe Lake Tahoe well enough. You would need a thesaurus to be able to find every word to describe this wonderfully unique place. There’s no other ski resort anywhere in the world that couples the thrills and spills of skiing and boarding with the glorious sceneries that Lake Tahoe, in particular Heavenly, has to offer. With it’s vibrant lifestyle and the lake on its doorstep, this truly is a Heavenly place to be.



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